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Ugandan Forces Free Kidnapped American Tourist, Driver


Uganda’s police spokesperson Fred Enanga addresses the media on the rescue of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endecott, who was abducted by gunmen in Queen Elizabeth National Park, at the police headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, April 8, 2019.

VOA's Carla Babb contributed to this report from the Pentagon; James Butty of VOA's English to Africa Service contributed from Washington.

Ugandan police deny a ransom was paid to free an American tourist and her driver, who were kidnapped in a national park last week.

Ugandan forces say they rescued Kimberly Sue Endicott and her Ugandan driver, Jean Paul Mirenge, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gunmen seized the two last Tuesday in Queen Elizabeth National Park, which borders the DRC.

Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga gave few details about how Endicott and Mirenge were freed.

"This was a high-risk operation and we had identified the hideout," Enanga said. "The pressure was there of a last resort move in, that there was an implicit threat of the use of force by our elite teams that we had on ground. But as the police and the government of Uganda, we don't do ransom."

Endicott and Mirenge were not hurt and Endicott was handed over to the U.S. ambassador in Uganda on Monday.

U.S. defense officials said the Pentagon was not asked for assistance but, nonetheless, provided drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support.

It is unclear if the United States or anyone else paid any kind of ransom despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying the U.S. government does not.

The suspected kidnappers remain at large and U.S. President Donald Trump says he wants them captured.

"Uganda must find the kidnappers of the American tourist and guide before people will feel safe in going there. Bring them to justice openly and quickly," he tweeted.

Ugandan police spokesman Enanga is warning other would-be kidnappers to think twice before trying to nab anyone.

"The successful recovery of the captives serves as a reminder to those enemies who want to harm our own people, including visitors, that we will do everything possible within our means to defend them," Enanga said.

Tourism minister: 'An isolated case'

Ugandan tourism minister Ephraim Kamuntu tells VOA that Americans shouldn't be dissuaded from visiting the East African country.

"What happened was an isolated case," he said. The incident shouldn't "be taken as a trend. Uganda is secure, Uganda is peaceful, Uganda is stable, and it has been so for the last three decades."

He emphasized safety for tourists, saying, "We have a whole Uganda Wildlife Authority with almost 5,000 rangers guarding national parks."

After a brief meeting with security officials Monday morning, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni tweeted that the country would deal with these "isolated pockets" of criminals.

He also promised that security would be improved in the parks.

This was the first kidnapping of any foreign tourists in Uganda in 20 years. In 1999, armed Hutu fighters from Congo entered Bwindi Park and killed eight tourists and four Ugandans.