By RODNEY MUHUMUZA (Associated Press)
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Suspected rebels attacked a school in a remote area of Uganda near the border with Congo, killing at least 41 people in a nighttime attack before fleeing across the porous border, authorities said. Thirty-eight students in their dormitories were among the victims.
Some students were burned beyond recognition and others were shot or hacked to death after militants armed with guns and machetes attacked the school in the border district of Kasese, a local mayor told The Associated Press.
In addition to the 38 students, a guard and two local community residents in the town of Mpondwe-Lhubiriha were killed in the attack, Mayor Selevest Mapoze said. A Ugandan military statement said rebels kidnapped six students, taken as carriers of food looted from the school store.
The privately owned, coeducational school is located about two kilometers (just over a mile) from the Congolese border.
Authorities blame the massacre at Lhubiriha High School on the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, a shadowy extremist group that has been launching attacks for years from bases in volatile eastern Congo. Residents of the Congolese provinces of Ituri and North Kivu have been victims of the group’s alleged attacks in recent years.
But attacks on the Ugandan side of the border are rare, thanks in part to the presence of an alpine brigade of Ugandan troops in the region.
The attack has sent shockwaves through this normally peaceful East African country, whose longtime leader cites security as a strength of his government. It’s also a blow to the country’s armed forces, which since 2021 have been deployed in parts of eastern Congo with the specific mission of going after militants accused of attacking a school.
Speaking to reporters near the site of the attack, the commander of the Ugandan troops in Congo told reporters that the rebels spent two nights in Kasese before carrying out the attack. He did not elaborate.
ADF rebels, when under pressure, “divert” the attention of their pursuers by splitting into small groups which then launch violent attacks elsewhere, Maj. Gen. Dick Olum said, suggesting the latest attack was an attempt of the rebels to relieve the battle front. pressure.
“A typical ADF firm,” he said, “because this is pressure. They’re under a lot of pressure, and that’s what they have to do to show the world that they’re still there and show the world that they can still wreak havoc.”
The raid on the school, which occurred around 11:30 p.m., involved about five attackers, according to the Uganda army. Soldiers from a nearby brigade who responded to the attack found the school on fire, “with the dead bodies of the students lying on the grounds,” said military spokesman Brig. Felix Kulayigye said in a statement.
Winnie Kiiza, an influential political leader and former MP from the region, condemned the “cowardly attack” on Twitter. She said that “attacks on schools are unacceptable and are a serious violation of children’s rights,” adding that schools should always be “a safe place for all students.”
The ADF has been accused of launching many attacks in recent years against civilians in remote parts of eastern Congo. Responsibility for attacks is rarely claimed.
The ADF has long opposed the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a US security ally who has held power in the East African country since 1986.
The group was established in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims, who said they had been marginalized by Museveni’s policies. At the time, rebels carried out deadly attacks on Ugandan villages as well as the capital, including a 1998 attack in which 80 students were massacred in a village not far from the scene of the latest attack.
Subsequently, a Ugandan military assault forced the ADF into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to operate because the central government has limited control there. Since then, the group has established links with the Islamic State group.
In March, at least 19 people were killed in Congo by suspected ADF extremists.
The Ugandan authorities have been committed for years to tracking down ADF militants even outside Ugandan territory. In 2021, Uganda launched joint air and artillery strikes in the Congo against the group.