Suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels attacked Lhubirira Secondary School Friday night in Mpondwe, about 2 km from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), killing at least 37 students, a security guard and three people of the local community, according to police and military sources.
The rebels, according to the military, burnt a school dormitory and also looted a food store. Among the victims, at least 17 students were burnt to death.
The militants abducted six students and forced them to carry the food, Felix Kulayigye, Uganda’s military spokesperson, told Xinhua by phone.
"We shall get them wherever they will be" and rescued the students, he added.
At least eight students who were sent to the hospital remain in critical condition, according to the police.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has sent a team of top military officers to investigate the incident.
Dick Olum, Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces commander for the mountain division based in western Uganda, said in a televised address that the rebels were aided to cross into Uganda from neighboring DRC.
"Kindly help us to identify the boys who helped the ADF come here. We have got information that ADF [militants] came and spent two nights here before they attacked the school," Olum said.
The military said in a statement that it was using both aerial and ground forces to pursue the attackers who could be retreating to Virunga National Park in the DRC.
"The planes have already arrived and deployed. They are going to search everywhere for these rebels," Olum said.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a statement after the attack, condemning the heinous attack and abduction of students and demanding their immediate release and safe return.
"Schools are a safe place for all learners and must never be attacked. We appeal to all those involved in the Friday attack to respect schools and the rights of every child to learn in a safe and protected environment," said Munir Safieldin, UNICEF representative to Uganda, in the statement.
The ADF, which is a branch of the Islamic State in Central Africa, is a Ugandan rebel group that is holed up in the jungles of eastern DRC. The rebel group is blamed for causing havoc in villages in eastern DRC.
The Ugandan military and their Congolese counterparts launched joint operations against the rebel group in November 2021 shortly after the ADF launched bomb attacks in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.