By Joseph Kizza
KAMPALA - President Yoweri Museveni has assured Ugandans and tourists alike that his administration will "continue to improve the security in our parks", a day after an American tourist and a Ugandan safari driver were rescued after being abducted earlier last week.
"We shall deal with these isolated pockets of criminals," the President said, in reference to Tuesday's kidnapping episode that had US national Sue Kimberly Endecott and game driver Jean-Paul Mirenge abducted by unknown gunmen in Queen Elizabeth National Park in south-western Uganda.
The pair were reportedly whisked off after being besieged by the group at gunpoint during an evening game drive inside the sprawling park, one of Uganda's most popular tourist destinations.
At the time, they were with an elderly couple - Martin Julius and wife Barbel - who were left behind.
Five days after going missing, Ugandan authorities announced that they had rescued the pair, sending a rippling sense of relief particularly to their respective families and friends. Their captors had demanded a $500,000 (about sh18b) ransom.
'Come and enjoy the Pearl of Africa'
President Museveni, in a tweet Monday, said he has since been briefed by security officials about the rescue operation. And his extended message, also on Twitter, was of reassurance.
"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," he said.
A recent survey conducted annually by InterNations, an international community and information site for people who live and work abroad, indicates that Uganda ranks fifth among the top 10 countries globally where expatriates easily make new friends and generally feel at home.
The ExpatInside survey notes that while many people struggle to find friends when they move abroad, Uganda "has always been an excellent destination for expats looking to find friends easily".
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he was "pleased" that the American tourist and her guide had been released.
"God bless them and their families!" he said.
Pleased to report that the American tourist and tour guide that were abducted in Uganda have been released. God bless them and their families!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2019
'In good health and safe'
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the day the news of Endecott and Mirenge's rescue emerged, Police said they were "good health" and "in the safe hands of the joint security team".
Police & its sister security agencies have today rescued Ms.Kimberley Sue, an American tourist together with her guide who were kidnapped while on an evening game drive at Queen Elizabeth National park.The duo are in good health & in the safe hands of the joint security team.— Uganda Police Force (@PoliceUg) April 7, 2019
It was the same positive message that was sounded by tourism minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu in his press conference the same day, with his delivery tinged with a healthy measure of relief as well.
"We were under pressure," he told reporters.
"But this anxiety now, we can say, we can put it to rest. The people are safe. They are secure. They are unharmed," Kamuntu said, audibly pleased to be relaying the good news to the world.
Meanwhile, Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo tweeted that Police chief Martin Okoth Ochola will Monday (today) hand over Endecott to the US Ambassador in Uganda, Deborah Malac.
Opondo had earlier posted on Twitter that that the American and the safari driver were "rescued alive by combined operation by Uganda security forces in the DRC. They have been brought back safely to Kanungu in Uganda", further mentioning that "the kidnappers have escaped and operations continue".
@PoliceUg #IGP #OkothOchola will today hand over the American tourist Ms Kimberly Sue Endicott rescued from kidnappers yesterday to the US Ambassador in Uganda @USAmbUganda @UgandaMediaCent— Ofwono Opondo P'Odel (@OfwonoOpondo) April 8, 2019
Minister Kamuntu, in his media discourse, was keen to assure the press that a rescue operation of such nature has consequences, and that "at this material time, it is not wise to begin to discuss them until time is appropriate when those details will be given".
"We thank everybody who made a contribution for the successful rescue. We particularly thank our security forces, who played a significant role in ensuring that this operation is successful," he said.
"Once again, I thank UTB [Uganda Tourism Board] and UWA [Uganda Wildlife Authority] as agencies responsible for the tourism sector for your positive contribution and response. We are very pleased to all of us," said Kamuntu.
At Chobe Safari Lodge, where I am chairing the NRM CEC retreat, I made time to meet leaders of a group of 250 Israeli tourists who are visiting Uganda. This group came here via a chartered direct flight from Israel, something that had not happened since the early 1970s. pic.twitter.com/XnqUVWVInq— Yoweri K Museveni (@KagutaMuseveni) February 17, 2019
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