Security agencies have sealed off the Uganda-DR Congo border in Queen Elizabeth National Park in the hunt for four armed men who kidnapped an American tourist and her Ugandan guide.
Ms Kimbley Sue Endecott, 35, and the guide, Mr Jean Paul, were kidnapped at gunpoint at around 7pm on Tuesday during an evening drive on Edward track between Katoke gate and Wilderness Camp in Kanungu District.
The kidnappers are demanding $500,000 (about Shs1.8b) as ransom. The suspects left two other elderly tourists, Mr Julius Martin and his wife Barbel, in the tour van unharmed but took away the car keys.
Joint security teams comprising the army, Counter Terrorism and Tourism Police were by yesterday evening searching the area, which spans 30 square kilometres to the Uganda- DR Congo border in the hope of finding the missing tourists and capturing their kidnappers.
Deputy police spokesperson Polly Namaye said they suspect the kidnappers are still in Uganda.
“We want to inform the public and all visitors in the country that the joint security teams have cut off all exit areas on the border between Uganda and the DRC in search for the victims,” Ms Namaye said.
Queen Elizabeth National Park covers 2,056 square kilometres and has been secure for both foreign and local tourists.
Ms Namaye said in the Tuesday incident, the kidnappers called on of the victims’ mobile phone, demanding ransom. Police have ruled out giving them ransom. The kidnap could hurt the tourist visits to Uganda and the country’s foreign earnings. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, which contributes half of the total revenues from the country’s national parks, is 18km from the scene of the Tuesday incident.
Kanungu Resident District Commissioner Shafique Ssekandi said Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth-Ochola and other UPDF field commanders had joined the hunt for the kidnappers and the search for the victims.
“We are all in the national park and we hope to be successful. We have enough security personnel in the park but the criminals normally use the porous border entries to cross and wreak havoc,” Mr Ssekandi said.
The chairperson of Kigezi tourism cluster, Mr Ivan Mbabazi Batuma, called for increased security in the park to ensure safety of tourists and tour operators.
He said attacks in the area have become rampant.
On January 7, Congolese militia kidnapped a resident of Munyaga Cell, Western Ward in Butogota Town Council, Kanungu District, and demanded ransom of Shs2m.
According to Mr Elly Maate, the area police spokesperson, the victim was released after his relatives paid Shs1.5m as ransom.
Mr Nelson Natukunda, the chairperson of Kihiihi Sub-county where the Tuesday incident happened, said there is a need for the government to intensify border deployment to stop DR Congo militias from crossing into Uganda, especially in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where they have continuously committed several crimes against Ugandans.
Similar incident. A similar incident last happened 20 years ago in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park when armed Hutu militia killed eight tourists and four Ugandans. The suspects were later arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
January 7. Congolese militia kidnapped a resident of Munyaga Cell, Western Ward in Butogota Town Council, Kanungu District, and demanded ransom of Shs2m.The victim was released after his relatives paid Shs1.5m as ransom.
August 2018. Another Congolese militia shot and injured three traders in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The militia kidnapped the fourth trader, Robert Mugabe and demanded a ransom of $20,000. He was released after his relatives paid $7,500 to the kidnappers.
May 2018. A UPDF soldier, L/Cpl Gladia Amenyo, 27, working with the Uganda Revenue Authority at Mpondwe border customs post, was attacked at about 10:30pm and shot in the right arm by Congolese militia, a kilometre to Ishasha customs office in Kanungu District.