By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - An American woman and her Ugandan driver have been kidnapped from Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda by gunmen demanding a ransom of $500,000, police said on Wednesday.
Kimberley Sue Endecott, 35, and Ugandan driver Jean Paul were on a game drive when their vehicle was ambushed by four gunmen on Tuesday evening, a police statement said.
An elderly couple who were also at the scene were not taken, and they raised the alarm, the police said.
The identity of the kidnappers was unclear. The Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab has carried out attacks in Uganda in the past, but has never kidnapped anyone for ransom there.
The park, Uganda's most visited, is located about 400 km (250 miles) southwest of the capital Kampala, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to many fragmented rebel groups.
Police said initial indications were that the kidnapping was financially motivated, since the group had quickly made a demand using Endecott's cellphone.
"We strongly believe this ransom is the reason behind this kidnap," they said. "The Joint Security teams have cut off all exit areas on the border between Uganda and the DRC in search of the victims."
The police believe the group may still be in the park, their statement said.
The U.S. embassy in Kampala said it would be issuing a statement later.
In 1999, an American couple, four Britons and two New Zealanders were killed along with four Ugandan guides when their group was ambushed by gunmen in Uganda's Bwidi Impenetrable Forest. Survivors said the killers appeared to be Hutu rebels based in Congo.
Bwidi Forest begins about 20 km (12 miles) south of Queen Elizabeth National Park.