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Museveni vows ‘Uganda is safe’ after tourist kidnap

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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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.

An 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.

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”.

He added that “the kidnappers have escaped and operations continue”.

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.

Asked about the ransom, police spokeswoman Polly Namaye would not confirm directly but referred AFP to the tour company, saying it was “an authority on its own”.

She credited the safe recovery of the pair “to the untiring efforts” of the search teams who were drawn from the police, military and the wildlife authority.

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.


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