Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni offered reassurances Monday that his country is a safe place to visit after security teams rescued an American woman and her driver who had been kidnapped by gunmen in a national park.
“We shall deal with these isolated pocket of criminals,” Museveni wrote on Twitter. “However, I want to reassure the country and our tourists that Uganda is safe and we shall continue to improve the security in our parks. Come and enjoy the Pearl of Africa.”
Four unidentified gunmen kidnapped Kimberly Sue Endicott, 56, and her driver, Jean-Paul Mirenge, near a wilderness camp inside Queen Elizabeth National Park last week. An elderly couple who were robbed but not taken alerted a park official to the abduction.
The abduction happened in the Ishasha section of the park, which sits near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ugandan police said Sunday that Endicott and Mirenge were safe and in good health following their rescue.
Police spokesperson Polly Namaye said the kidnappers, using a phone of one of the victims, demanded $500,000.
It was unclear Sunday if the ransom had been paid for Endicott, who is from Costa Mesa, California, where she has a small skin-care shop.
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,” he said. “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.”
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.