What you need to know:
- Reports indicate that 37 of the dead were students and five were the school guard and residents of the area who were allegedly killed as the rebels fled the scene.
By JEROME K BITSWANDE
Some leaders and residents of Kasese District have questioned how security and intelligence agencies failed to detect and prevent an attack on Lhubiriha Secondary School in which suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels killed 42 people.
Reports indicate that 37 of the dead were students and five were the school guard and residents of the area who were allegedly killed as the rebels fled the scene.
The institution is reportedly owned by a Canadian named Peter Hunter, and lies within proximity of police divisional offices and UPDF barracks.
Witnesses and survivors, including Ms Mary Musoki, the matron at the school, said the assailants struck between 10pm and 11pm, and killed the guard, broke into the dormitories where they bayoneted, cut or shot students before setting the dormitories alight.
“I thank the security who then responded. However, by the time they came I think all the dormitories were burnt and the rebels and had already gone,” said Ms Musoki, who also revealed that she lost two siblings in the attack.
The raiders also broke into the school store where they forced a yet-to-be-established number of abductees to ferry the loot, and killed or hurt some villagers as they retreated unchallenged via Virunga National Park into the restive Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The attack during which frightened students made alarms and fire coloured the dark night lasted at least for an hour, according to witness accounts, but police and army located within a 1.5-kilometre radius arrived after nearly two hours --- after the gunmen had vanished.
Ms Juliet Masika, an employee at Hard Rock Gardens that is roughly 200 meters from the school, said she security vehicles showed up at the school at around 1 am, a couple of hours from start of raid.
In a statement on Saturday, military Spokesman Brig Felix Kulayigye noted that the assailants who wreaked havoc near Mpondwe border post numbered about five and Maj Gen Dick Prit Olum, the commander of the UPDF Mountain Division responsible for Rwenzori area and Operation Shujaa in DRC, said the attackers hibernated in the community for two days before striking.
These revelations, adding to earlier reports that DRC had early last week passed specific intelligence that ADF attack on Uganda’s border soil was imminent, yesterday prompted Kasese Woman Member of Parliament, Ms Florence Kabugho, to question why security agencies did not avert or respond to the raid.
“It is unfortunate that our students have died. There are very many unanswered questions that I need government to answer,” she said.
Citing Uganda’s deployment of troops in DRC under Operation Shujaa since November 2021 and massing of troops at the western frontier over concerns of violence in the neighbouring country spilling over the border, MP Kabugho said she was both stunned and disappointed that such a deadly attack happened.
“Security told us the borders are secured and security is tight; where were they at night when the killers attacked [the students]?” she asked.
Speaking at the torched school on Saturday, Maj Gen Olum said the assailants were able to sneak in because Uganda shares a long “porous” border with DRC, and security cannot deploy every inch.
The raid, he argued, was an outcome of the pressure UPDF is exerting on ADF inside Congo and the attack was to create a spectacle to the world that the group is alive and can cause mayhem.
He did not delve into what the security and intelligence agencies knew about the plans before the attack, or why they did not respond timely to the distress calls.
Brig Kulayigye told our sister radio station KFM’s Views, People and News (VPN) mid-morning talk show hosted on Saturday by Mr Kwezi Tabaro, that whereas the brutality meted appeared ADF “signature”, they were investigating whether the incident was related to wrangle over ownership of the burnt school.
Education Minister Janet Museveni repeated similar accounts during a press conference late on the same day, saying auditors had been sent there to check the financial records of the institution on Wednesday and Thursday before the school went up in flames and students were killed the next day.
Both the minister and the army did not, however, explain how any of the parties in the ownership wrangle could have mobilised armed men and conducted a raid that mirrored the June 1998 ADF attack on Kichwamba Technical College in neighbouring Kabarole District, or why they would have targeted students instead of other claimants.
Mr Stanley Bwambale, a businessman at Mpondwe Market, said the successful attack on the school “shamed” Uganda.
“With all these soldiers around, the rebels really got to Uganda and inflicted all this harm within our country! We should be ashamed,” he said.
For Mr Philemon Baluku, a resident, the unanswered incursion of the gunmen is inexplicable.
“We have both police and military within this area, how did this happen and then the entire country seemed helpless?” Mr Baluku noted.
ABOUT THE SCHOOL
Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Secondary school is located in Nyabugando Cell and about 1.5 kilometres from the fortified border post and stretch as well as Bwera Divisional Police headquarters in Mpondwe Town.