Ugandan forces are searching for more than 200 naked prisoners who escaped jail, broke into an armoury, then stripped and fled into a remote wilderness area in the country’s north-east.

At least three people – a soldier and two of the 219 escapers – died in the firefight, according to Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso, a spokeswoman for the military.

The jailbreak occurred on Wednesday afternoon near the army barracks in the district of Moroto. “They overpowered the warden who was on duty,” Byekwaso said.

The prisoners were “hardcore” criminals who were jailed for offences relating to cattle theft in the region, she said.

They 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”.

“The pursuit is continuing,” she said, as she warned the escaped prisoners might raid homes for clothes.

It was not immediately possible to reach prison authorities or local officials.

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