At least 37 killed in attack on school in Uganda, officials say
At least 41 people were killed, most of them students, in an attack by a rebel group on a school in Uganda Friday. At least six people were kidnapped. Ugandan authorities believe an extremist group known as the Allied Democratic Forces was responsible. Chris Livesay has more.
June 17, 2023 at 21:00Author: Editors DeskSource: The Washington Post
Suspected militants killed at least 37 people and abducted six others in an attack on a school in western Uganda, authorities said Saturday.
The raid in Mpondwe, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, took place late Friday, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Felix Kulayigye, who said five rebels set fire to the school’s campus and looted its food stocks.
When military forces arrived on the scene at Lhubiriha Secondary School, “the school was found burning with dead bodies of students lying in the compound,” Kulayigye, a brigadier general, said in a statement.
The local mayor, Selevest Mapoze, gave an even more grim account to the Associated Press, saying 41 people, including 38 students, had been killed. Some of the victims suffered fatal burns in a dormitory that the attackers set on fire, Mapoze said, and others were shot or hacked to death with machetes.
According to Kulayigye, the suspected attackers were rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an extremist group that has ties to the Islamic State and operates in Uganda and across the border in Congo. He said Ugandan forces were “pursuing the enemy to rescue those abducted and destroy” the group.
The U.S. mission in Uganda said Saturday that it was “deeply saddened to learn of the heinous attack” and offered condolences to the victims’ families. In a statement, the United Nations Children’s Fund condemned the violence it said took place on “the same day gazetted to commemorate the Day of the African Child.”
On Twitter, Bobi Wine, a rapper-turned-opposition leader, said he hopes “investigations can begin in earnest so that the perpetrators of this crime face justice.”
The attackers spent two nights in the area in western Uganda before the assault, Maj. Gen. Dick Olum, commander of the Ugandan forces operating in Congo, told local residents at the site, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported.
After the raid, the rebels forced the abducted students to help them carry the looted food toward Congo’s Virunga National Park, according to Kulayigye. Law enforcement joined the military “in hot pursuit” as the rebels fled in the direction of the park, police said.
The attack was the latest atrocity blamed on rebel groups operating out of Congo’s eastern region, with violence sometimes spilling over the border with Uganda.
The Kivu Security Tracker, a conflict-mapping project run by New York University and Human Rights Watch, recorded 3,850 individuals killed in 730 attacks attributed to the ADF in Congo’s eastern region since 2017. In March, the ADF killed at least 36 people in a raid on a village in Congo’s North Kivu province, the AP reported.
On Monday, 114 asylum seekers — 70 of whom were children — crossed the border from Congo to Uganda, fleeing what Uganda’s Red Cross Society said were suspected ADF attacks in Congo’s Kasindi, about six miles from Mpondwe. They later returned home after Congolese forces assured them it was safe to do so.
It was unclear Saturday why the school was targeted, but Olum told reporters that the ADF could be lashing out under pressure. After a spate of suicide bombings in 2021, Uganda’s military launched joint air and artillery strikes against ADF camps in Congo, in cooperation with Congolese forces. That mission, dubbed Operation Shujaa, was extended last year.
“They are under huge pressure, and so this is what they have to do: show the world that they are still there, and show the world that they can still do havoc, which they did,” Olum said Saturday.
The attackers used tactics employed by the ADF in previous campaigns, he said.
“What happens is every time we put the ADF under a huge pressure … they try to pull us back to our area, to see if they can divide and divert our forces,” Olum said. “They come in very small numbers — five, ten ― and do such mayhem; kill, maim, rob. And in so doing, they think they’ll divert us.”
The ADF, which was founded by Ugandan exiles in Congo in 1995 with the aim of toppling Uganda’s government, has a history of attacks throughout the region, including at least one targeting an educational institution. In 1998, the group raided a college in western Uganda, killing 80 students and abducting 100 others, according to the Daily Monitor.
Since then, the United States, United Nations and Ugandan and Congolese governments have all accused the group of waging violent attacks, including against civilians, military forces and U.N. peacekeepers inside Congo.
In 2020, U.N. investigators said that the widespread and systematic nature of the ADF’s attacks against civilian populations may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But even as Ugandan and Congolese forces have stepped up their anti-ADF campaign, the group appears to have “expanded its areas of operations, capacity, and lethality since 2021,” according to a 2022 report from the Congressional Research Service.
Ables reported from Seoul, Bisset from London and Gregg from Washington.