Kampala, Uganda – Ugandan authorities have recovered the bodies of 41 people – including 38 schoolchildren – who were burned, shot or beaten to death after suspected rebels attacked a secondary school near the Congo border, the local mayor said on Saturday.
According to the Ugandan military, at least six people were kidnapped by the rebels who fled across the porous border into Congo after Friday night’s raid.
The victims included the students, a security guard and two members of the local community who were killed outside the school, Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Mayor Selevest Mapoze told The Associated Press.
Mapoze said some of the students suffered fatal burns when rebels set fire to a dormitory, while others were shot with machetes or hacked.
According to the Ugandan military, around five attackers were involved in the raid, which took place around 11:30 p.m. Soldiers from a nearby brigade responding to the attack found the school on fire, “there were bodies of students on the premises,” said military spokesman Brig. Felix Kulayigye said in a statement.
The statement named 47 bodies, eight other people were injured and treated at a local hospital. Ugandan troops are “pursuing the perpetrators to rescue the kidnapped students” who were forced to transport looted food to Congo’s Virunga National Park, sources said.
Ugandan authorities said the Allied Democratic Forces, an extremist group that has been launching attacks for years from bases in troubled eastern Congo, carried out the raid on Lhubiriha Secondary School in the border town of Mpondwe. The school, a privately owned co-educational school, is located in the Kasese district of Uganda, approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Congo border.
Joe Walusimbi, a Ugandan presidential representative in Kasese, told the AP over the phone that some of the victims were “burned beyond recognition.”
Winnie Kiiza, an influential political leader and former regional MP, tweeted the “cowardly attack”. She said “attacks on schools are unacceptable and constitute a serious violation of children’s rights,” adding that schools should always be “a safe place for every student.”
The ADF has been accused of carrying out numerous attacks against civilians in remote parts of eastern Congo in recent years. The shadow group rarely takes responsibility for attacks.
The ADF has long opposed the rule of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a US security ally who has held power in that East African country since 1986.
The group was formed in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims who said they were sidelined by Museveni’s policies. Back then, rebels carried out deadly attacks in Uganda’s villages and capital, including a 1998 attack that massacred 80 students in a town not distant from the scene of the last attack.
A Ugandan military attack later forced the ADF into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to operate because the central government has limited control there.
The group has since developed ties to the Islamic State group.
At least 19 people were killed by suspected ADF extremists in Congo in March.
Ugandan authorities have vowed for years to track down ADF fighters outside Ugandan territory as well. In 2021, Uganda launched joint air and artillery strikes against the group in the Congo.