In Uganda, the unbearable wait for families after a high school massacre

Steph Deschamps / June 18, 2023


In a morgue in western Uganda, distraught families waited on Sunday to know the fate of their loved ones after the jihadist raid on a high school that left dozens of students horrifically dead.
At least 41 people were killed on Friday night, mostly students, in the worst attack of its kind in the country in years.
The attack targeted the Lhubiriha high school in Mpondwe, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). Ugandan army and police officials have incriminated members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist militia that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The victims were attacked with machetes, shot and burned alive in an attack that shocked Uganda and drew strong international condemnation.
The assailants fled towards Virunga Park in Congolese territory, also kidnapping six people after their deadly raid, according to the Ugandan army and police, who have promised to free the hostages.
Many victims were burned beyond recognition when the assailants set fire to a locked dormitory in the high school, complicating victim identification.
At a morgue in Bwera, a town close to the scene of the attack, families wept as the bodies of their loved ones were placed in coffins and taken away for burial.
But many other families are still without news of their missing loved ones.
The remains of many of the victims of the high school fire have been transferred to the town of Fort Portal, where DNA tests are due to be carried out.
The attack on the school is the deadliest in Uganda since the double bombing in Kampala in 2010, which left 76 dead in a raid claimed by the Somali-based Islamist group Shebab.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the attack as "appalling", while Washington, a close ally of Uganda, and the African Union also condemned the bloodshed and offered their condolences.
Seventeen students were burned to death in their dormitory and 20 female students were stabbed to death, said Ugandan First Lady and Education Minister Janet Museveni. 
A security guard and three other people were also killed, officials said.
The army will hunt down "these evil people and they will pay for what they have done", said Mrs. Museveni on Saturday.
But questions have been raised about how the assailants managed to thwart surveillance in a border region with a strong military presence.
The school is less than two kilometers from the border with DR Congo, where the ADF are active and are accused of having killed thousands of civilians since the 1990s.
Major General Dick Olum told AFP on Saturday that intelligence services had reported an ADF presence in the area at least two days before the attack, stressing the need for an investigation.
According to the officer, the assailants had detailed information about the school. 
Uganda and DR Congo launched a joint offensive in 2021 to drive the ADF out of their Congolese strongholds, but these operations have so far failed to put an end to the group's attacks.
In June 1998, 80 students were burnt alive in their dormitories during an ADF attack on the Kichwamba Technical Institute near the border with DR Congo.
More than 100 students were kidnapped.


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