Uganda’s military and security forces are pursuing a group of 210 inmates who escaped in a massive jailbreak and stripped half-naked to avoid being identified as prisoners.
Three of the escapees from the prison in the remote town of Moroto, 286 miles from Kampala, have been killed and seven detained. A senior military officer was also killed in an exchange of fire at the prison in the foothills of Mount Moroto on Wednesday afternoon.
The prisoners made their escape after breaking into an armoury at the prison, where 620 people were being held, and taking guns and ammunition before overpowering a prison warden.
“The army is in pursuit,” said Brig Flavia Byekwaso, a spokeswoman for the Uganda People’s Defence Force. “They removed all their uniforms because the yellow colour was giving them away.”
“These are warriors. They are used to the bush, they know how to run. They know the area and terrain very well,” she added.
Frank Baine, a prisons service spokesman, described the jailbreak as one of the rarest cases of its kind in Uganda.
Among the escapees were prisoners considered dangerous and jailed for involvement in deadly armed cattle raids across Karamoja, an impoverished region bordering South Sudan and Kenya.
“The pursuit is going on,” Baine said. “But of course these are warriors on their home ground. They know all the tactics about the army: scattering, hiding, stripping [naked] and the like.
“The moment they got out of the prison, they ran into different directions. But most of them were heading for Mount Moroto, where it is almost a no-man’s land and they can move without being intercepted.”
The incident is Uganda’s third prisoner escape since the coronavirus outbreak began in March. In other cases, fears of contracting the virus in cramped jails spurred inmates’ efforts to break out.
At least three cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Ugandan jails.
The total number of inmates in Uganda rose 10% to 65,000 in the five months to August, according to the prisons service – a surge attributed to a large number of people apprehended for violations of various anti-coronavirus measures, such as curfews and travel restrictions.
Byekwaso said a helicopter was “waiting to be called in to fire on the prisoners” if necessary. “The army is doing what it can and its best to make sure these people are all rearrested, and we are sure we shall,” she said.