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Museveni insists Uganda is safe after tourist kidnapping

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday insisted his country was safe for travellers, after the kidnapping of a US tourist, but vowed to further strengthen security in national parks.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

The American woman and her experienced safari guide were recovered unharmed Sunday after a ransom was paid for their release six days after they were abducted by gunmen while on an evening game drive in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga told journalists that the woman would be handed over to the American embassy in Kampala later Monday.

Security forces in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo were still hunting her kidnappers, who escaped.

Tourism is a key industry for Uganda, home to rare mountain gorillas and other wildlife, the massive Lake Victoria and snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.

“Uganda is safe,” Museveni wrote on Twitter, adding that authorities would “deal with these isolated pockets of criminals” and “continue to improve security in our parks”.

“Come and enjoy the Pearl of Africa,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of the East African nation’s most popular wildlife reserves, runs along the border with conflict-wracked regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It borders the famous Virunga national park, the oldest in Africa.

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo wrote on Twitter that Endicott and Mirenge, were rescued “by Uganda security forces in the DRC”.

Enanga told journalists that the pair were released due to the “implicit threat of the use of force” because the “armed captors knew they were being pursued”.

“The operation to arrest the culprits is ongoing with the close coordination of our counterparts from the DRC,” he said.

The Ugandan police’s tourist protection force had deployed a special response unit working alongside soldiers and wildlife rangers in the hunt for the kidnapped pair.

But it appeared they had been recovered for an unknown sum of money.

Mike Walker, manager of Wild Frontiers Safaris, said US tourist Kimberly Endicott and experienced guide Jean-Paul Mirenge, were “back safe”.

“Ransom paid and people exchanged,” he told AFP by text, adding that he didn’t know the “precise amount yet”.

Police had said the kidnappers used Endicott’s mobile telephone to demand a ransom of $500 000 (445 000 euros) for the release of the pair.

Enanga made no mention of any payment and declined to provide further details due to “future operational security and tactical reasons”.

US President Donald Trump, in a tweet, welcomed the news of Endicott’s release.

“Pleased to report that the American tourist and tour guide that were abducted in Uganda have been released. God bless them and their families!” Trump tweeted. AFP