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Uganda steps up manhunt after US tourist and driver kidnapped

FILE PHOTO: Tourists at Queen Elizabeth Park

Uganda hunt for kidnapped US tourist enters third day

Kampala, Uganda | AFP | Ugandan security forces scoured dense bush on Thursday in the hunt for a US tourist and her safari guide who were kidnapped by gunmen in a national park.

“The operation to rescue the tourist is still ongoing,” Uganda’s tourism minister, Godfrey Kiwanda, told AFP on Thursday morning.

Four kidnappers stopped a group of tourists at gunpoint around dusk on Tuesday as they drove through the Queen Elizabeth National Park on safari to see wild animals.

Police identified the American as a 35-year-old woman, and said the kidnappers had later used her mobile telephone to demand a ransom of $500,000 (445,000 euros) for the release of the pair. The driver is a 48-year old safari guide with years of experience.

The gunmen dragged the pair from their safari vehicle, but left behind two other tourists, whom police described as an “elderly couple”. They managed to raise the alarm from the lodge where they were staying.

Army spokesman Brigadier Richard Karemire said security forces were doing all they could to track down the gunmen.

“Let the security forces do their work,” he said Thursday.

The US Embassy in Kampala said it was aware of the kidnapping, and warned its citizens to “exercise caution when travelling to this area due to ongoing security activity.”

Soldiers have fanned out along the porous border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, with security forces insisting they believe the pair remain in the country.

The Ugandan police’s tourist protection force has also deployed a special response unit working alongside soldiers and wildlife rangers.

Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of the East African nation’s most popular wildlife reserves, runs along the frontier with conflict-wracked regions of DR Congo, bordering its famous Virunga national park, the oldest in Africa.

American identified

Police identified the American as a 35-year-old woman, and said the kidnappers had later used her mobile telephone to demand a ransom of $500,000 (445,000 euros) for the release of the pair. The driver is a 48-year old safari guide with years of experience.

Two other tourists, whom police described as an “elderly couple”, were present when the gunmen attacked, but were not abducted or physically harmed. They managed to raise the alarm from the lodge where they were staying.

Park close to DRC

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 Britons and their driver were freed two days after the attack. The park reopened in February.

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. Uganda is home to over half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas.

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.

Army spokesman, Brigadier Richard Karemire, insisted the kidnapping was “an isolated incident” and that Uganda remains safe for tourists.

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