Uganda says 219 prisoners escape, some with guns and ammunition

Two escapees were killed in the pursuit to capture the prisoners, described by the army as ‘hard-core criminals’.

Uganda police
The jailbreak occurred on Wednesday afternoon near the army barracks in the district of Moroto [File: Ronald Kabuubi/AP]

Ugandan forces have launched a manhunt to recapture more than 200 prisoners who escaped jail after stealing weapons and fled into a remote wilderness area in the country’s northeast.

At least three people – a soldier and two of the 219 escapees – died in a gun battle and two inmates were rearrested, according to Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso, spokeswoman for the military.

The jailbreak occurred on Wednesday afternoon near the army barracks in the district of Moroto in northeast Uganda.

“They overpowered the warden who was on duty,” Byekwaso said. 

Before fleeing, they broke into the prison armoury and stole 15 AK-47 rifles, 20 magazines and other ammunition.

“It’s a mass escape … these were hard-core criminals,” she said, adding they included murderers, robbers and rapists.

The spokeswoman advised the population in the area to “stay calm”.

The fact they had some weapons and a head-start of hours of darkness made the search more difficult, Byekwaso said.

The prisoners took off their clothes to avoid being spotted in their distinctive yellow uniforms and ran into the foothills of Mount Moroto, an underpopulated area that the spokeswoman described as “a wilderness”. 

“They’ve had a whole night to disperse and hide, it complicates our efforts but we shall get them,” Byekwaso added.

It was Uganda’s third prisoner escape since the outbreak of the new coronavirus in March amid fears of contracting COVID-19 in cramped jails.

At least three cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Ugandan jails. The country has confirmed 5,266 infections to date, and 60 related deaths.

The total number of inmates in Uganda rose 10 percent 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.

Karamoja, a mountainous area on Uganda’s border with Kenya, is also a mineral-rich region where both wildcat and large-scale miners dig for a range of minerals and metals including gold.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies