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Kidnapping in Uganda: More arrests as government rejects Donald Trump's "lectures" on tourist safety

Suspects arrested in kidnapping of US tourist
  • A Ugandan government spokesman said eight people were in custody on Wednesday over the kidnapping of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott and her guide.
  • The government insists its policy is not to pay ransoms, but sources have confirmed that some money was handed over to secure the pair's release.
  • The government spokesman dismissed "lectures" from President Trump on what Uganda must do to make people feel it is safe to visit the African nation.

A Ugandan government official said on Wednesday that a total of eight people were in custody over the kidnapping of an American tourist and her guide, and he rejected President Donald Trump's "lectures" on how to keep visitors to the nation safe. Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo gave the update on the investigation and rebutted Mr. Trump's remarks in video statements posted to Twitter.

Kimberly Sue Endicott of California and her safari guide were released Sunday, after almost five days in captivity. Sources have told CBS News that some ransom money -- though not nearly the $500,000 the kidnappers had demanded -- was handed over to secure their release.

It has never been clear where the money handed to the kidnappers came from, and on Wednesday Opondo insisted that "the policy" of the Ugandan government is, "we don't pay ransom." He dismissed reports of a ransom payment as "rumourmongering."

"By last evening, 8 suspects identified as Ugandans had been arrested in connection to (the) kidnapping of the American tourist," Opondo said on Wednesday.

CBS News correspondent Debora Patta and producer Sarah Carter reported on Tuesday that the first four arrests in the case were believed to have been of illegal fish traders and ivory smugglers, suspected of getting supplies to the kidnappers. It wasn't clear who the four new suspects in custody were, or how they were believed to be connected to the case.

American abducted in Uganda rescued after 5-day ordeal

Ugandan police tracked down at least the first four suspects with the assistance of FBI surveillance equipment. At one point, as many as 19 FBI agents were in Kihihi -- the town nearest the site of the abduction -- assisting with the investigation, according to local authorities. The FBI has acknowledged to CBS News that it aided in the search, but disputed the extent and the number of agents involved.  

A rebuttal to Trump

Opondo also dismissed Mr. Trump's warning, issued in a tweet on Monday morning, that people wouldn't "feel safe" visiting Uganda until those responsible for the kidnapping were apprehended and brought to justice.

"Bring them to justice openly and quickly!" the American president said on his Twitter account.

"Uganda is a very safe place for its citizens, the general public, and especially the tourists," Opondo said Wednesday, asserting that in the 2017-2018 tourist season the central African nation hosted 1.7 million visitors, and "none of them had that kind of incident. We have not had any incident where a tourist is harmed since 1999."

"We don't need lectures from him (President Trump) on how to protect our citizens," Opondo said. "Our judicial system is open, is transparent, is credible. We do believe that the arrests made should be able to convince the world that, actually, our security system works. We don't have to go into arguments with Mr. Donald Trump or anybody."

End of a nightmare

Almost a week after armed gunmen abducted them inside Uganda's renowned Queen Elizabeth National Park, Endicott arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda on Monday, the next stop on her way home.

CBS News' Patta reported that the Ugandan safari adventure was always high on Endicott's bucket list, but she never imagined it would turn into such a nightmare.

Sources have told CBS News that Endicott and her guide were forced to walk across the border from Uganda into the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they spent most of their five days in captivity.  They were given a mattress and sheet to sleep on, but spent their nights outdoors in the bush.

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A photo provided by the Wild Frontiers tour company on April 8, 2019, shows American tourist Kimberly Endicott and field guide Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo a day after they were rescued following a kidnap by unknown gunmen in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Wild Frontiers/Handout

When Endicott and guide Jean Paul Mirenge Remezo made it back to the wildlife lodge at Ishasha in the national park after their release, Endicott was barefoot and her pants were ripped and they both appeared exhausted but otherwise healthy.