Ugandan Forces Free Kidnapped American Tourist, Driver

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2019-04-07

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—VOA's Halima Athumani in Kampala contributed to this report.

Uganda security teams have rescued an American woman and her driver who had been kidnapped by gunmen in a national park.

The two "are in good health'' and "in the safe hands'' of security officials, police said in a Twitter update.

Four unidentified gunmen kidnapped Kimberly Sue Endicott, 56, and her driver, Jean-Paul Mirenge, near a wilderness camp inside Queen Elizabeth National Park Tuesday evening. An elderly couple who were robbed but not taken alerted a park official to the abduction.

The abduction happened in the Ishasha section of the park, which sits near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Police spokesperson Polly Namaye said the kidnappers, using the victim's phone, demanded $500,000.

It was unclear Sunday if the ransom had been paid for Endicott, who is from Costa Mesa, California, where she has a small skin-care shop.

Uganda earns about $1.3 billion per year from tourism.

Bashir Hangi, the spokesperson for the Uganda Wildlife Authority, acknowledged the kidnapping could hurt the tourism industry but said tourists need to be cautious when traveling in national parks.

"Maybe we need to appreciate the fact that these people did not have a ranger guide, the time they went for a game drive," he said. "And why do we have guns in the park? It's to protect our visitors, not only against wildlife but also against such illegal armed entrants in the parks."

Meanwhile, in an advisory, the U.S. embassy in Kampala has asked Americans to exercise caution when traveling in Queen Elizabeth National Park due to ongoing security activity.