Prisons spokesperson Frank Baine said the cause of the escape was human error by the gatekeeper and those who were on duty.
PRISON BREAK SECURITY
On Wednesday evening, 219 mainly hard-core inmates of Ward 3 of Moroto Central Prison escaped with 14 guns and an unspecified number of bullets.
New Vision has learnt that the escape, which seems to have been carefully planned, started at around 4:45 pm under the cover of rain. It was spearheaded by hardcore inmates who included dismissed army men and cattle rustlers.
Sources privy to the escape told the New Vision that at exactly 4:45 pm as other inmates relaxed in the open-air ground playing various indoor games, a number of them moved towards the armoury.
A yet to be identified inmate pounced on the armoury guard who was busy on his smartphone.
"Before he could take action he was surrounded by other prisoners, forcing him to surrender. The same inmate used the gun to disable the lock on the armoury's wooden door as others removed the metallic burglar proofing in the corridor. Two of them subdued the warder while the others shared out the guns taken from the armoury. They then picked their belongings and mobilized their colleagues to join them and they exited the facility via the valley that surrounds Mt. Moroto Hotel," the source revealed.
The Commissioner-General of Uganda Prisons, Dr Johnson Byabashaija, confirmed the incident and noted that the escapees were COVID-19 suspects who were waiting for their results.
"We had a breakout in Moroto and 14 guns were taken. We have recaptured some while others have been put out of action. Pursuit continues. Unfortunately, those who escaped are COVID-19 suspects who were waiting for their results," he said.
Prisons spokesperson Frank Baine said the cause of the escape was human error by the gatekeeper and those who were on duty on Wednesday.
"The escape was caused by human error on Wednesday evening at 4:00pm, as the gatekeeper and others on duty did not assess the situation well. Of course, prisoners will always plan to escape; everywhere there is no prisoner who wants to remain in prison. However, in this case, the gatekeeper is the one who did not gauge the situation well leading to the escape," he said.
The Prisons publicist added that most of the escapees took advantage of being former cattle rustlers to grab guns from prison warders. The escapees then cut through the prison fence with the armed group at the rear ready for any action.
By the time prison authorities made a distress call, 219 prisoners were already out of the facility and had divided themselves into three groups.
First on the scene was the Uganda Police Force who were later joined by the Uganda People's Defence Forces.
New Vision has learnt that the prisoners engaged the army, killing one soldier.
Deputy army spokesperson Lt Col.Deo Akiiki confirmed the death of the soldier, saying: "His struggle was not in vain as he died fighting to restore peace and justice to his motherland. We celebrate his life and heroism."
At around 5:00 pm the escapees could be seen climbing Mt. Moroto. Three helicopters included an army gunship were immediately deployed to track them down, but their efforts were hindered by the terrain and shooting from the armed escapees, sources confirmed.
Exchange of fire could be heard in town which went on until 6:45 pm before the fugitives disappeared on the southern side of Mt. Moroto into the hilly areas of Nadiket Seminary.
The UPDF 3rd Division Commander, Brig. General Joseph Balikuddembe, led the team of soldiers who even scaled the mountain but the operation was called off at around 8:00 pm.
On Thursday morning the joint operation by the military, Police and Prisons personnel led to the arrest of nine escapees and killing of three who resisted arrest. By 3:00 pm, no single rifle had been repossessed while 207 escapees could still not be accounted for.
A resident of Naligoi village on the hilly slopes of Mt. Moroto said that some of the escapees raided their homes and stole some of their clothes in the night.
"We lost our clothing, including beddings to the fleeing inmates as they did not want to be recognized in the yellow wear," one Lomerinyang noted.
He said others were seen clad in only underwear with bruises on their bodies.
Earlier on Thursday, gunshots were heard around Kodonyo parish as the armed gunmen advanced towards Tapac sub-county on the Uganda-Kenya border.
The Prisons Department has also sent warders from Kumi, Soroti and Katakwi to reinforce those at the prison.
Akiiki further confirmed that some of the escapees were armed and had blended into the community after abandoning the prison uniform.
The regional Prisons commander for Karamoja, Sam Edotu, declined to speak when contacted. But by press time a bag full of yellow clothes had been collected from Mt. Moroto along the routes used by the inmates in the night before their arrival in Naligoi village.
The UPDF spokesperson, Brig. Flavia Byekwaso said the army was helping the prisons authorities in the operation to recapture the escapees.
"The operation by UPDF in pursuit of escapees from Singila Prison in Moroto to re-arrest them and recover the stolen guns continues.
The population is, therefore, advised to stay calm," Byekwaso said in a tweet on Wednesday evening.
Statistics from Uganda Prisons Service indicate that one in every 2,000 prisoners attempt to escape and the largest prison break occurred more than 10 years ago in Arua were over 400 inmates ran away. However, 90% of the escapees are always recaptured, according to the report.
"West Nile region has a high tendency of escapees due to the absence of a maximum-security prison yet the majority of the convicts accommodated within these prisons were ex-soldiers.
Having undergone training while in service they take advantage of their skills to escape," Baine said.
Compiled by Olandason Wanyama, Charles Etukuri, Chris Kiwawulo and Petride Mudoola