Search continues for USA tourist and her driver kidnapped in Uganda

Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda

Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda

Ugandan security forces scoured dense bush on Thursday in the hunt for a USA tourist and her safari guide who were kidnapped by gunmen in a national park.

The kidnappers used one of the victim's mobile phones to demand $500,000 as ransom, which police said they believe is the motive behind the abduction.

Ugandan Ambassador to Washington Mull Katende stressed to The Post on Thursday that it is very "unusual" for a tourist to be kidnapped in Uganda, a peaceful country with a booming tourism industry based largely on its national parks and wildlife.

The American citizen - a woman - and a Ugandan driver were kidnapped at gunpoint at Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda, while on a game drive on Tuesday evening, a statement released by the agencies said.

"The operation is continuing", she told AFP.

Two other tourists described in the press release as an "elderly couple", Martin Julius and his wife Barbel, were left unharmed but without keys in the vehicle the group had been using on their game drive.

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On Wednesday, police said in a statement that they "strongly believe" the kidnappers and the victims "could still be trapped within our search area, and we are hopeful that our efforts will lead to their successful recovery". They managed to raise the alarm from the lodge where they were staying.

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

The U.S. embassy in Kampala said it was aware of the kidnapping, warning its citizens to "exercise caution when travelling to this area due to ongoing security activity". The park is near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and adjacent to Virunga National Park, where two British tourists were held by Congolese rebels in May 2018.

Ugandan police also established an emergency center at the time where families of victims could report cases in response to the increase in kidnap cases. Tourists flock to the East African nation for game drives in its 10 national parks, birdwatching in protected wildlife sanctuaries, boat trips on the Nile River, and hiking in the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains. The Britons and their driver were freed two days after the attack.

The announcement from the Uganda Wildlife Authority comes as the woman's whereabouts inside the Queen Elizabeth National Park remain unknown following her reported capture Tuesday. The park reopened in February; weeks later another ranger was killed. The rebels were part of a militia group that was involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide before fleeing to the jungles of the DRC.

According to a report from Uganda's Tourism Ministry, tourism is the country's "leading foreign exchange earner", bringing in $1.37 billion in 2016 alone. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each year.

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