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Ugandan Border Town Mourns Victims of Rebel Massacre, Mostly Students

by Ryan Lee
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rebel massacre

On Sunday, a grieving border town in Uganda commenced the burial process for the victims of a savage assault on a school, believed to be carried out by extremist rebels. The attack resulted in the deaths of 42 individuals, with the majority being students. In response to the incident, security forces increased their patrols along the volatile eastern Congo border.

Mayor Selevest Mapoze of Mpondwe-Lhubiriha, the town where the attack took place, reported that one of the eight people injured during the Friday night assault had succumbed to their wounds overnight. He further mentioned that most of the victims’ relatives had come to claim their bodies from the morgue.

The victims of the attack included 38 students, a school guard, and three civilians. On Sunday, two individuals from the same family were laid to rest. Some students were burned beyond recognition, while others were shot or brutally killed with machetes after armed militants launched an assault on the co-ed, privately owned Lhubiriha Secondary School, located approximately 2 kilometers (just over a mile) from the Congo border. Ugandan authorities suspect that at least six students were abducted and taken as captives back into Congo.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack and emphasized the need for collective efforts, including enhanced regional partnerships, to address cross-border insecurity between Congo and Uganda and restore lasting peace in the area.

Mpondwe-Lhubiriha was tense but relatively calm on Sunday, with Ugandan security forces patrolling the streets surrounding the school, which was cordoned off by the police.

The attack has been attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that seldom claims responsibility for its actions and has established connections with the Islamic State. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in his first statement regarding the incident, described the attack as criminal, desperate, terrorist, and futile. He pledged to deploy additional troops on the Ugandan side of the border.

The ADF has been accused of numerous attacks in recent years, targeting civilians in remote areas of eastern Congo. In March, one of their attacks resulted in the deaths of 19 people. The ADF has long been opposed to the rule of President Museveni, a U.S. security ally who has held power in Uganda since 1986.

The group was formed in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims who felt marginalized by Museveni’s policies. At that time, the rebels conducted deadly attacks in Ugandan villages and even in the capital. One such attack in 1998 claimed the lives of 80 students in a town not far from the location of Friday’s raid.

The recent attack followed a similar pattern of violence against students. The attackers targeted two dormitories and employed extreme force when the boys resisted, as reported by Ugandan officials. Education Minister Janet Museveni, who is also Uganda’s first lady, explained that the terrorists were unable to enter the dormitories directly and resorted to throwing a bomb and a petrol bomb, resulting in the burning of the children.

Schools are often targeted due to their vulnerability. Students are sometimes recruited by rebels or used as carriers for insurgents. Additionally, such attacks garner media attention, which extremists seek.

The raid seemed to catch Ugandan authorities off guard, as first responders arrived after the attackers had already fled.

Some villagers in Mpondwe-Lhubiriha have temporarily relocated, fearing further attacks, according to Mayor Mapoze.

The border region is porous, with numerous unmonitored footpaths. Many parts of eastern Congo lack law enforcement, providing fertile ground for groups like the ADF to operate, as the central government in the capital, Kinshasa, has limited authority in those areas.

However, attacks by the ADF on the Ugandan side of the border are uncommon due to the presence of a Ugandan alpine brigade in the region. Ugandan troops have been stationed in eastern Congo since 2021 as part of a military operation to hunt down ADF militants and prevent them from targeting civilians across the border.

The deployment of Ugandan troops inside Congo was prompted by attacks in November 2021, during which suicide bombers, believed to be ADF members, detonated explosives at two locations in the capital, Kampala, resulting in the deaths of at least four civilians. One of the attacks occurred near the Parliament building, while the other took place near a busy police station.

President Museveni explained that mounting military pressure on the rebels deep inside Congolese territory had forced them to splinter into smaller groups, such as the one that attacked the school. The goal was to draw Ugandan forces away from the region and protect the ADF from the losses they were currently experiencing. President Museveni expressed determination in hunting down the ADF terrorists until they are completely eradicated, highlighting the opportunity presented by the Congo government’s permission for Ugandan operations within their territory.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about rebel massacre

What happened in the Ugandan border town?

A brutal attack took place in a Ugandan border town, targeting a school and resulting in the deaths of 42 individuals, mostly students.

Who carried out the attack?

The attack was believed to be carried out by suspected extremist rebels, specifically the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which has established ties with the Islamic State group.

How did the victims die?

The victims were killed through various means, including burning, shooting, and hacking with machetes. The attackers used extreme force when the students resisted.

What is being done to address the situation?

Ugandan security forces have increased patrols along the volatile eastern Congo border. The government has vowed to deploy more troops and enhance regional partnerships to tackle cross-border insecurity.

Why are schools targeted in these attacks?

Schools are considered soft targets due to their vulnerability. Students can be recruited or used as carriers by rebel groups. Additionally, such attacks attract media coverage, which extremists seek.

Is this an isolated incident?

The ADF has been accused of multiple attacks in recent years, primarily targeting civilians in remote parts of eastern Congo. Attacks on the Ugandan side of the border are rare due to the presence of Ugandan troops.

What is the historical context of the ADF?

The ADF was established in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims who opposed President Museveni’s rule. They have conducted deadly attacks both in Ugandan villages and the capital over the years.

Are there concerns of further attacks?

Some villagers have temporarily relocated due to fears of additional attacks. The porous nature of the border and the lawlessness in parts of eastern Congo raise concerns regarding future security incidents.

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