Ugandan security forces are searching for an American tourist, her driver and the four gunmen who abducted them inside a national park on Tuesday. The gunmen have demanded half a million dollars to release the captives.
Ugandan police say a group of three tourists and their Ugandan driver were out in Queen Elizabeth National Park at about 2:00 p.m. Tuesday when the unidentified men held them up at gunpoint.
They say the gunmen kidnapped an American, identified as 35-year-old Kimberly Sue Endecott, and the driver, Jean Paul. The other two tourists, an elderly couple, were freed and later informed park officials of the abduction.
The abduction happened in the Ishasha section of the park, which sits near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The kidnappers, using the victim's phone, have demanded $500,000," Polly Namaye, the police deputy spokesperson told reporters. "We strongly believe that this ransom is the reason behind the kidnap."
Now, the phone is switched off, meaning authorities have to wait for kidnappers to get back in touch.
Security agencies including the president's Elite Special Forces, the tourism police and the regular police are searching the national park, an area that covers 2,000 square kilometers, in hopes of rescuing Endecott and Paul.
They are hoping the gunmen do not cross into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, which is just 18 kilometers from the kidnap scene and stretches into Congo.
In 1999, armed Hutu fighters from Congo entered Bwindi Park and killed eight tourists and four Ugandans.
Namaye says police suspect Endecott, Paul and the kidnappers are still somewhere in Queen Elizabeth Park.
“We strongly believe that the perpetrators and the victims could still be trapped within our search area and we are hopeful that our efforts will lead to their successful and safe recovery.” said Namaye.
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. 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," said Hangi.
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.