Map of Uganda

KAMPALA, UGANDA - Police, army and prison personnel in Uganda are searching for more than 200 inmates who escaped from a maximum security prison Wednesday in the northeast Karamoja region. 

Authorities on Thursday said they had killed three of the 219 Moroto Prison escapees and captured nine.

The mass escape occurred when inmates overpowered a gatekeeper. 

"It happened when the prisoners, who are carrying food, were coming in, and then they waylaid the gatekeeper," Frank Baine, the Uganda Prisons spokesperson, told VOA. "Then of course a group from inside joined in, overpowered the gatekeeper. Broke the armory, removed the guns, broke the main gate and started scattering." 

This is Uganda's third-largest prison escape since 2006, when 500 inmates fled a facility in the West Nile region of Arua district. Another 300 escaped a prison in Adhumani district in northern Uganda. 

Uganda's prisons house more than 61,000 inmates and many of its facilities are overcrowded. 

Coronavirus threat

The prisoners have not been spared from the coronavirus, which officials say has infected 5,266 Ugandans and caused 60 deaths nationwide. 

Baine says some prisoners in the Moroto facility were diagnosed with the infection, and four staffers were under quarantine. Many more inmates have tested positive throughout the country. 

"The number is about 511 and about 14 staff," he said. "But the good thing is that our people are all asymptomatic. Actually, about 153 have already recovered."

Baine says officials have increased vigilance around prisons to ensure there are no more mass breakouts as they focus on capturing the escapees from the Moroto facility.