Gunmen who kidnapped an American tourist and her driver in a Ugandan national park have demanded a ransom of $500,000 (Shs1.9b), police said Wednesday as they launched a hunt for the perpetrators.
"The kidnappers, using the victim's phone, have demanded $500,000. We strongly believe this ransom is the reason behind the kidnap," said a statement from deputy police spokeswoman Polly Namaye.
The kidnapped tourist was identified as Kimberley Sue Endecott, a 35-year-old US citizen and one Jean Paul, a tour guide and driver attached to World Frontiers Safaris Uganda.
Ms Namaye said the gunmen waylaid a vehicle registration number UAE 777E which was carrying four tourists and varnished with two of them. They also went with the car keys, leaving the other two tourists stranded. The two were identified as Martin Julius and his wife Barbel.
The kidnap comes at the time when army and police have just intensified security operations at the Kanungu border of Ishasha following the kidnap of six Ugandans including a 12-year-old child.
Ms Namaye said security forces among other police, Internal Security Organisation (ISO), army and External Security Organisations (ESO) to trace for kidnapped tourists including Ugandans who went missing weeks ago.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of the East African nation's most famous wildlife reserves, runs along the frontier with conflict-wracked regions of DR Congo, bordering its famous Virunga national park, the oldest in Africa.
Numerous militia groups and armed gangs roam eastern DR Congo. Virunga suspended all tourism activities last year after a ranger was killed and two British tourists kidnapped. The park reopened in February.
The Britons and their driver were freed two days after the attack.
The Ugandan park straddles the equator, covering 1,978 square kilometres (764 square miles) in the country's south west.
It is also about 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, famous among tourists for gorilla trekking.
In 1999, Rwandan rebels killed eight foreign tourists there, inflicting an enormous blow to Uganda's tourist industry. The rebels were part of a militia group that was involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide before fleeing to the jungles of DR Congo.
Tourism is a key industry for Uganda, as a major earner of foreign currency. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each year. Uganda is home to over half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas.