How security negotiated with tourist kidnappers - National | NTV

How security negotiated with tourist kidnappers

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Wednesday April 10, 2019


A joint Ugandan security rescue team commanded by President Museveni weighed several options including use of force before they eventually decided to negotiate with the kidnappers of an American tourist and her Ugandan guide.

At first, sources close to the rescue mission say there were pitches to send commandos to DRC in a covert rescue mission but that option was abandoned after considering diplomatic ramifications of such a move without the involvement of DRC government. There were also fears that the mission could go wrong yet they wanted the two alive.

The President, in a brief to the Cabinet on Monday, explained how the security team, planned and negotiated with the kidnappers until they secured their release. The President made it clear, that there were negotiations but no ransom was paid to secure the release of victims.

After the government team and the kidnappers failed to agree on the ransom, the president according to sources told Cabinet that as plan B, the [abductors] negotiated for “a small token” to cover the cost of feeding the victims.

“We paid $30,000 not as ransom, but to secure the return of the abducted…they accepted $30,000 just to recover the cost of operation; otherwise, how do you come down from $500,000 to $30,000? But we shall find them and arrest them,” a source quoted the President.
The President according to sources told the Cabinet that their priority was to get the American tourist, Ms Kimberly Sue Endicott, and her Ugandan guide, Mr Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo alive and that the kidnappers were hiding in the DRC.

Although negotiations continued as intelligence tracked abductors through undisclosed nearest telephone mast, the President explained that it was not feasible for the Uganda People’s Defence Forces commandos to cross to a neighbouring country and start fighting abductors without the knowledge of President Felix Tshisekedi’s government.

Ms Sue and her guide were kidnapped on April 2 from Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, one of the country’s most popular safari destinations. The kidnappers had demanded for $500,000 in ransom but the government refused to pay.

The President, however, did not disclose whether “the token” was paid by the government of Uganda, relatives of the victims or the Wild Frontiers, the safari company with which they were travelling.
The President told Cabinet that he commanded the rescue operations until the release of the detainees on Sunday.

Explaining why a joint rescue security team didn’t attack kidnappers, Fred Enanga said: “Under the imminent threat of attack, they [kidnappers] relented to pressure. We had a mapping of their location but we were mindful of the safety of the victims.”

“We have an identity of the remaining kidnappers and that is encouraging. We shall give an account of each and every one of them and the role they played [in the kidnap].”
The President told Cabinet that “the kidnappers are Ugandans with a base in Kasese District.

Explaining how the release was planned, the president told Cabinet that during negotiations with the kidnappers, they insisted that the government rescue/ security team sends three civilians to DRC to deliver the agreed “token” before releasing the victims. In what other sources called a covert mission, the three undisclosed civilians travelled to DRC and met the kidnappers to facilitate the release of victims. Cabinet also heard that the kidnappers are still in DRC and that their arrest can only be done with the cooperation of DRC government.
The President said the kidnappers had earlier abducted Ugandan fishermen on Lake Albert, who paid them a ransom but killed a soldier. The president however, neither disclose the identities of the soldier nor addressed the recurrent fights, accusations and abductions that are common on Lake Albert.

DRC authorities have repeatedly accused Ugandan fishermen of fishing in their territory even though there is no clear marked boundary between Uganda and DRC in the lake.
Lake Albert in Uganda offers plenty of Uganda Safaris and Tour activities including boat cruises, sport fishing, bird watching, sightseeing, among others.

At least five ministers corroborated this narrative and described the President as “calm” and “serious” as he recounted the frantic search for kidnappers on Sunday.

In the Cabinet meeting, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities minister was tasked to explain why the tourists did not have armed rangers. Mr Kamuntu explained that the tourists rejected Uganda Wildlife Authority armed guards, a requirement for all tourists in the area.

Without addressing Mr Trump’s demand for public trial of the kidnappers, the President assured the country and the world that Uganda is safe and promised to “deal with isolated pockets of criminals. “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.”

“No one can destabilise Uganda…we now have the capacity to deal with any security threats. I handled this politically but by now we would have had them arrested or killed but we did not want to risk the life of those kidnapped,” the President said.

“We only need to educate the wananchi and some security people to stop contaminating scene of crime. If they had taken the police dogs first, we would have traced them quickly; but these security people all descended to the scene and contaminated it,” he said.

Unanswered questions

Who are the kidnappers?
Who paid the small token to the kidnappers?
How was the handover of the victims done?
Why did the kidnappers drop the $500,000 demand?
Who the kidnappers kept calling?
Why did the tourists reject armed rangers?
What next after the recovery of the victims?