American tourist, guide released after ransom was paid: reports

Family of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott paid ransom to kidnappers, who later dropped her and the Congolese tour guide off at the border and asked the tour company to pick them

KAMPALA | An American woman and her Ugandan guide who were kidnapped while on safari last week have been freed after a ransom was paid, media reports reveal.

Jane Goldring, a director at Wild Frontiers, said the two kidnapping victims had been freed. Another official with the company, who asked not to be named, said the two were currently “enjoying a square meal and hot shower” at a wilderness camp in Uganda run by Wild Frontiers.

They were dropped off at a point near the border of Uganda and DR Congo on Sunday, the official said. He asked not to be named because he was not authorised to provide details about the circumstances of the release.

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The official said he did not know the identity of the kidnappers and that Wild Frontiers paid the ransom.

The revelation by foreign media comes after Ugandan security had started claiming the rescue of Kimberly Sue Endicott and her Congolese driver cum tour guide Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo.

However, with information that ransom was paid, the government finds itself in a spot of bother as it leaves an indictment not only on the capacity of security agencies to handle kidnap cases but also dents the tourism industry.

A spate of kidnaps in the country in 2017 came to an end early 2018 with the abduction of Susan Magara, a daughter of a wealthy businessman. The kidnappers had demanded ransom but desperate efforts to rescue her were futile.

Magara was killed by the kidnappers.

Since then, there has been few such cases but the case of tourists will leave citizens asking tougher questions going forward.

Endicott, of California, was kidnapped Tuesday evening while on a game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The park, home to more than 800 bird species and some 2,500 elephants, is generally regarded as safe for tourists.

A group of gunmen stopped the tourists’ vehicle and seized the American woman and the guide. The gunmen left behind the two other tourists, who were described by the Ugandan police as an elderly couple.

The kidnappers used their victims’ telephone to contact authorities and ask for $500,000 (about Shs1.9 billion) in ransom.

It remains unclear how much was paid to the kidnappers and what role security forces played in this regard.

The gunmen’s identity is unclear but the area where the abduction took place was once roamed by fighters belonging to an anti-Kampala rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which is now mostly dormant. The group is still believed to have camps in eastern Congo.

The release of Endicott comes just in time for the grandmother’s 57th birthday on April 15.

Her family had pleaded for her ransom to be negotiated.

“The family has done what’s been asked of them to do. I think it’s the government’s time to help us,” the woman’s cousin, Rich Endicott, told the Associated Press.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week Washington does not pay ransoms to release its citizens.

“Please remember that any payment to a terrorist or a terrorist regime gives money so that they can seize more of our people,” he said after meeting families of other citizens that had been kidnapped.

“Even a small payment to a group in, say, Africa can facilitate the killing or seizure of tens or even hundreds of others, including Americans or foreign nationals in that region.”

Endicott’s cousin said about Pompeo’s comment: “I heard our Secretary of State get on there and say we don’t pay ransom. OK, fine. Then get the Navy SEALS, get them on a plane and go save her. Don’t pay ransom, I’m good with that. But he didn’t say any of those things, and maybe they’re doing those things, but who knows.”

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