Attack on Uganda school in Mpondwe by suspected ADF rebels kills 37

Suspected militants killed at least 37 people and kidnapped six others in an attack on a school in western Uganda, authorities said on Saturday.

The attack in Mpondwe, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, took place on Friday afternoon, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Felix Kulayigye, who said five rebels set fire to the school campus and looted its food supplies.

When military forces arrived at the scene at Lhubiriha Secondary School, “the school was found burning with corpses of students lying on the premises,” Brigadier General Kulayigye said in a statement.

The local mayor, Selevest Mapoze, gave an even grimmer account to the Associated Press, saying 41 people, including 38 students, had been killed. Some of the victims suffered fatal burns in a bedroom the attackers set on fire, Mapoze said, and others were shot dead or hacked with machetes.

According to Kulayigye, the alleged attackers were rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an extremist group with links to the Islamic State that operates in Uganda and across the border in Congo. He said Ugandan forces were “pursuing the enemy to rescue the abductees and destroy” the group.

The US mission in Uganda said on Saturday that it was “deeply saddened to learn of the heinous attack” and offered condolences to the families of the victims. In a statement, the United Nations Children’s Fund condemned the violence which it said took place “on the same day published to mark the Day of the African Child”.

On Twitter, Bobi Wine, a rapper turned opposition leader, said he hopes that “investigations can begin in earnest so that the perpetrators of this crime face justice.”

The attackers spent two nights in the western area of ​​Uganda before the assault, a senior military official said, Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper reported. After the attack, the rebels forced the kidnapped students to help them carry the looted food to 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 attributed to rebel groups operating out of Congo’s eastern region, with violence sometimes spilling over the Ugandan border.

On Monday, 114 asylum seekers, 70 of whom were children, crossed the Congolese border into Uganda, fleeing what the Ugandan Red Cross Society said were suspected ADF attacks in Kasindi on the Congo, about six miles from Mpondwe. They later returned home after Congolese forces assured them it was safe to do so.

The ADF, which was founded by Ugandan exiles in Congo in 1995 with the aim of overthrowing the Ugandan government, has a history of attacks across the region, including at least one targeting an educational institution. In 1998, the group stormed a university in western Uganda, killing 80 students and kidnapping 100 more, according to the Daily Monitor.

Since then, the United States, the United Nations and the governments of Uganda and Congo have accused the group of carrying out violent attacks, including against civilians, military forces and UN peacekeepers inside the Congo.

The group established links with the Islamic State group in 2018, according to the US State Department, which designated the ADF as a foreign terrorist organization in 2021 and has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information about their leader, Seka Musa Baluku.

In 2021, the Ugandan government identified him as the culprit behind a series of suicide bombings against the capital, Kampala. In March, the ADF killed at least 36 people in a raid on a village in Congo’s North Kivu province, AP reported.

Ables reported from Seoul, Bisset from London and Gregg from Washington.

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