The Uganda Police Force has denied reports that the freedom of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott and her Ugandan tour guide, Jean Paul Mirenge was only secured after a ransom of $30,000 (about Shs 112m) got paid to the kidnappers.
Four armed men last week kidnapped the duo from Queen Elizabeth National Park on April 2. Using Kimberly’s mobile phone, the kidnappers demanded for a ransom of $500,000 (about Shs 1.8bn).
According to security sources, after receiving the money, the kidnappers called the tour company, Wild Frontiers Safaris Uganda and directed its workers where to find Kimberley and Mirenge. But police spokesperson Fred Enanga says the duo was released after a joint elite force threatened to attack the kidnappers hideout.
“As police we don’t give ransom and if ransom was paid to kidnappers that can be clarified by [Kimberly’s] family,” Enanga said.
At the time of the kidnap, Kimberly and other tourists who were robbed but left unharmed were driving a Wild Frontiers truck. The kidnappers walked away with the car keys. US secretary of state Michael Pompeo last week said the US doesn’t or encourage payment ransom money for the release of American citizens as this would only lead to more kidnaps.
“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.”
Meanwhile, police couldn’t explain the fate of six Ugandans including a 12-year-old child who were also recently kidnapped near the Ishasha Uganda-DRC border.
US President Donald Trump has used his Twitter account to demand that authorities in Uganda find the kidnappers and bring them to justice, otherwise he said, Uganda will remain unsafe for tourists. However several social media users in his country and elsewhere have gone on to point it out to him that with the gun violence in the US, Uganda is actually safer place even for the Americans.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2019
Enanga said the operation to arrest the kidnappers is still ongoing with support from the Congolese security. He used this opportunity to warn future kidnappers.
“The successful recovery of the captives serves as a reminder to those enemies who want to harm our own people including visitors,” Enanga said. “That we will do everything possible within our means to defend them.”
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.
After a brief meeting with security officials Monday morning. President Yoweri Museveni tweeted saying, they will deal with these isolated pockets of criminals.
He reassured the country and tourists that Uganda is safe, urging them to come an enjoy the “Pearl of Africa.” He also promised that security will be improved in the parks. Uganda earns about $1.3 billion per year from tourism.