American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott, kidnapped last week while on an African safari, was scheduled to be turned over Monday to the U.S. ambassador to Uganda amid conflicting reports over whether a ransom was paid for her freedom.
Ugandan police said Endicott was released Sunday in good health and was safely in the hands of Ugandan security forces.
"The victim (and) her safari guide, Jean Paul Mirenge, were released because of the implicit threat of the use of force after the armed captors knew they were being pursued," Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga said.
Enanga declined to provide specific details on how Endicott's freedom was secured, citing future operational security and tactical reasons.
Wild Frontiers Uganda Safaris issued a statement thanking Ugandan and U.S. authorities for conducting the "negotiated handover." An official with the company told The Associated Press that an undisclosed ransom was paid.
“Otherwise she wouldn’t be back,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Endicott, from Southern California, was visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park when they were abducted at gunpoint by four men who used her cellphone to contact authorities and demand a $500,000 ransom, Ugandan police said. They were swept across the border to an unknown camp in neighboring Congo, officials said.
"The operation to arrest the culprits is ongoing with the close coordination of our counterparts from the (Congo), whom we have been working with for the last five days," Enanga said. "We continue to appraise the kidnap and rescue operation to ensure such an occurrence does not happen again."
Enanga stressed that Uganda is safe for tourists. President Trump, however, suggested on Twitter that the kidnappers must be arrested before tourists will be comfortable in the equatorial nation of 43 million people.
"Uganda must find the kidnappers of the American Tourist and guide before people will feel safe in going there," Trump tweeted Monday. "Bring them to justice openly and quickly!"
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
The State Department released a statement Friday saying it works "tirelessly, in partnership with local authorities" to bring home anyone who is kidnapped abroad. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, has repeatedly stressed that paying ransoms only leads to more kidnappings.
Endicott and Mirenge were on an evening safari with a Canadian couple when the gunmen accosted their vehicle. The 78-year-old Canadians were robbed but left behind and were able to notify the camp manager, who retrieved them.
A massive search-and-rescue effort was launched after the ambush and kidnapping.
Police said Endicott, who owns a small skin-care shop in Orange County, California, arrived in Uganda on March 29 and on the next day flew to the park, a sprawling wildlife refuge more than 200 miles west of the capital city of Kampala.
Queen Elizabeth Park is Uganda’s most popular tourist destination and is generally regarded as safe, but the western edge borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to several rebel groups.
Last year, two British tourists and their driver were kidnapped in the Virunga National Park across the border in Congo. They were released two days later.
"We shall deal with these isolated pockets of criminals," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni tweeted Monday. "However, 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."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rescue or ransom? American kidnapped in Uganda will meet US ambassador Monday