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"Police Count 300 Dead"

by Patrick Mugumya ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

Kampala - Security officials in Rukungiri have sealed off the scene of the mass suicide in Kanungu, where between 300 and 600 people are feared to have perished in an inferno at the church.
Some local residents had allegedly started looting iron sheets and other properties like cows from the abandoned camp.
By yesterday the Police had counted over 300 charred bodies from the burnt out Church of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
Lt. Emmy Twagira, the District Internal Security Officer (DISO), said the Police investigators had secured a list of some of the cult members believed to have died in the inferno.
Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi told the Associated Press that 470 people could have died. He said it was impossible to identify the bodies at the scene but the number of dead was likely to be double the 235 reported earlier.
Police identified eight people from the same family from Ruhinda, Rutooma in Bushenyi, who died in the blazing fire. They are Augustine Rwamutwe, Oliver Rwamutwe, Emmanuel Mukiza, Geoffrey Arinaitwe, Charles Twesigye, Tophas Tabaruka, Consolata Tushabe and Silasi Karyoho.
Others were identified as Lozio Nkaijanabwo, Claudio Nasikye,Anastazia Ngambwaki, Baryamanya Komupiira and John Kamagara. The Police will publish an extensive list of the victims in due course.
The Police told The New Vision on telephone on Sunday that they were organising a burial for the victims in a mass grave at the scene.
"The DPC (Patrick Mugizi) has moved with a contingent of Police officers to the scene to supervise the digging of a mass grave, which we hope to finish later today and bury the victims tomorrow. We want to avert the dangers of an epidemic," said a Police officer on duty at Rukungiri Police Station.
Cpl Stephen Mujuni, the LDU commander in charge Kanungu said, "Some people had started a looting spree.
"They were removing iron sheets and property like cows," he said.

"Cult Leaders Among The Dead"

by James Mujuni ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

Kampala - Self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere, the leader of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was part of a group of Christians that perished in an inferno at Kanungu Church, Rukungiri district on Friday.
Others who are believed to have died are two ex-Roman Catholic priests, Joseph Kasapurari and Dominic Kataribabo.
Kibwetere's son Rugambwa, whom The New Vision found at the scene on Saturday said his father wrote to their mother Theresa on Thursday, March 16 from the camp.
In the letter, Kibwetere reportedly exhorted his wife to carry on with the religion, "because the members of the cult were going to perish the next day." It is not clear why Kibwetere's family members were not members of the cult.
Rugambwa's mother sent him to Kanungu to secure a handful of ash from the scene to make it possible for Kibwetere's family hold a funeral service.
The symbolic burial was scheduled to take place on Sunday at their home in Kabumba.
Rugambwa said Kibwetere had not set foot at their home in Kabumba, Kajara County, Ntungamo district since 1997.
"He, however, wrote to my mother (Theresa) on Thursday (the day before the suicide) telling her to carry on with the religion because they were going to perish," the visibly terrified Rugambwa said.
Kibwetere also sent a suitcase full of prayer books, hymn books and other church literature to Theresa.
"We had last heard of him in 1997 when he sent a condolence message at the funeral of our brother Bennett. Since then he had never communicated. He did not even send condolence messages when we lost two sisters Stella and Gloria in the same week in June 1999. We started believing rumours that he had died long ago," Rugambwa said.
He said his father and two ex-Catholic priests traveled to the camp on Tuesday March 14 to join their colleagues.
Local residents said that they saw Kibwetere's Grey Toyota Corona vehicle heading towards the camp on Tuesday evening, but it was not possible to establish whether Kibwetere was in the vehicle.
Many people, mainly from western Uganda, have continued to throng the scene to witness the horror and mourn their relatives.
A Roman Catholic nun on Saturday recovered her dead mother Anastasia Ngambwaki's green identity card in the compound near the burnt church.
The cult was issuing green identity cards to all its members, but many were destroyed on the eve of the incident. The only properties that were not burnt were the seven statues of the Virgin Mary, a large assortment of green and black robes, plastic cups, plates and some wooden desks.
Many people said there was a body lying alone at the entrance of the church that resembled Kibwetere.
Unlike the other bodies charred beyond recognition, this body lay ahead of the others, at the far end of the church and still had a cassock clinging to it. There was a gap of about five meters between it and the other bodies which lay in a heap.

"Kanungu Suicide Group Identified"

by Grace Matsiko ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

Kampala - The police and local officials have identified some of the 300 to 600 people including a family of eight who perished in the Kanungu cult suicide in Rukungiri on Friday.
Relatives and local authorities said the leader of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult, self-styled Bishop Joseph Kibwetere, 68, was among the dead.
He died in the fire with excommunicated priests Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary Kasipurare, 38 and Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, 64, all leaders of the same sect.
Augustine Rwamutwe, Oliver Rwamutwe, Emmanuel Mukiza, Geoffrey Arinaitwe, Charles Twesigye, Tophas Tabaruka, Consolata Tushabe and Silaasi Karyohe, all belonging to one family were among the dead.
Police chief spokesman, Asuman Mugyenyi, said Jane Barisigira, 43, of Ntanga, Kashambya, in Kabale district died together with her five children.
The children were identified as Elizabeth Kyomuhangi, 8, Vienni Ninsiima, 10, Aine Omugisha 12, Patrick Omukama, 16, and another daughter, Annet Atuhaire.
The sixth son went to join them later but found the relatives had perished.
One Pulikeriya Kamugyeregyere from Kitanga died with her two sons Vincent Mugisha and Charles Byaruhanga, all aged about 14 years, according to Mugyenyi who visited the camp yesterday.
Others were Sunday Kadogo of the nearby Nyamambo village and Miria Oribureba of Nyamakamba.
The dead were further identified as Lozio Nkaijanabo, Claudio Wasikye, Anastazia Ngambwaki, Baryamanya Kompiira and John Kamagara.
The list of the victims also include, Kirimasi, an old man from Kataate, Dezi, son of Hakubaho Kakuru of Karuhinda, Mrs. Kanangabo of Bufunjo, Kyobutungi of Kyambogo, two sons of one Kasoka of Nyamakamba, Mperera, who went there with a family whose number was not readily established, but all hail from Kinkizi.
Some of the dead people could be identified from the identity cards recovered from the camp and signed by Kibwetere.
Many victims could not be recognised, Police said yesterday.

"They Sang Before They Died"

("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

MBARARA Sunday- With doors locked and windows boarded and nailed shut from breakfast time on Friday, they sang and chanted for several hours, doused themselves in fuel, then set the church on fire.
Men and women believers - mostly former Roman Catholics - sold their belongings, donned white, green and black robes and brought their children into the church of the obscure "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God" in the remote little town of Kanungu.
"People said they heard some screaming but it was all over very quickly," police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi, just back from the scene, told Reuters in Mbarara, the provincial capital.
Forensic experts and detectives began to sift through the remains on Sunday, tallying what is believed to be the world's second biggest mass suicide of recent history.
Kanungu, 320 km (200 miles) from the capital Kampala, is tucked down in the southwest corner of Uganda, a country dictator Idi Amin once made a byword for African horrors.
Just to the west lies the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armies of six African states have been sucked into a messy civil war. Just south is Rwanda, where 800,000 people were slaughtered in the 1994 genocide.
Local papers said the extremist Christian sect, one of several Doomsday cults to have sprung up in Uganda in recent years, was registered as a non- governmental organisation in 1997, but had been in operation since the early 1990s. Cult leaders, who included former opposition political activist Joseph Kibwetere as well as two excommunicated priests, taught that the world would end in 2000. "Prior to this incident their leader told believers to sell off their possessions and prepare to go to heaven," Mugenyi said, adding that the Police were treating the incident as both suicide and murder.

"World Press Links Suicide To Uganda's Bad History"

by Kalungi Kabuye ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

Kampala - The world press has taken notice of the suicide of more than 300 people of the Church of the Restoration of Ten Commandments of God, the second biggest mass suicide in history.
In a Page 2 story, The Boston Globe wrote that members of a millennium cult, that included three priests and two nuns who had been excommunicated, feasted and rejoiced through the week before the suicide.
The British Broadcasting Service, in a report posted on its website, said had in the past year broken up two cults in the south of the country, but is still battling the Lord's Resistance Army, successors to the Holy Spirit Movement of the 1980s.
A story by CNN in tracing the origins of cults in Uganda, mentioned the "extreme and violent Christian cult, the Holy Spirit, whose successor, the Lords resistance Army, is still pursuing a guerrilla war, and wants to rule the country on the basis of the Ten Commandments."
The Washington Post also draws parallels to raids by the police on the World Message Last warning Church in Luweero, and the camp of the 'Prophetess' Nabaasa in Ntusi, Sembabule district.
South Africa's 'The Star also traced the 'history of fanatical religious movements in (Uganda).
The Mail and Guardian, of South Africa, drew attention to the proximity of Kanungu to Rwanda, where over 800,000 people were killed in 1994, and the DRC, where fighting rages on.

"Kanungu: An Eyewitness Tale"

("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

Kampala - Hours after the world's second worst mass suicide, Richard Tusiime, Editor of Orumuri, The New Vision's sister paper, visited the scene and recounts to Grace Matsiko.
I have practiced journalism for several years but no assignment has ever touched me to the marrow the way this particular one did.
I was in Mbarara when we got a call at midnight from Caleb Bahikaho, our reporter based in Rukungiri, that members of a cult had died in a fire. I and James Mujuni, a Vision reporter, left Mbarara at 10:00am.
Kanungu is about 50km from Rukungiri town which is about 100km from Mbarara, connected by a very bad road.
In Rukungiri town, we picked Bahikaho and reached the camp at 1:30pm on Saturday.
The camp is isolated stands like an island surrounded by the cult's cattle farm. Adjacent to the camp is Makiro Catholic Parish Church and Kanungu Trading Centre.
In the compound, we found Steven Mujuni, a Local Defence Unit commander, addressing the residents, a big number were wailing.
Mujuni told the residents they could not identify their relatives because they were burnt beyond recognition.
He said an excavator was being brought from Rukungiri to bury the dead in a mass grave. He told the relatives, they could go inside the church and collect the ash for burial.
But as we approached the camp, ahead of us was a vehicle whose occupants I knew. One was Joseph Kibwetere's eldest son, Maurice Rugambwa.
I consoled him. Kibwetere was my uncle. He went to school with my mother and she used to pray with the cult when it had just began. When they demanded that she should take us out of school and sell the property. She left the camp.
As we moved around the compound, Rugambwa (he does not belong to the cult) pleaded with me not to mention he is Kibwetere's son.
The mood at the camp was sombre. People had began arriving on pick-up trucks. There were screams all over the place that was cold. Most of the people wore sweaters and jackets. We were led to the church some metres away on a slope by an LDU personnel. We went through a passage between the dormitory and the primary school the cult had constructed but was closed by the district authorities.
I froze at the sight of the bodies in the church. Towards the entrance were the majority of the bodies heaped on top of the other, indicating the victims had tried to runaway. They were in different postures. Some were squatting, others facing down and on their knees like Muslims praying.
There were others locked in an embrace.
What shocked me were the number of babies among the dead.
Most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition. They were naked because the clothes had burnt off. Most of the skulls had exploded and so were the intestines.
There was a thick yellow liquid exuding out of the anus of the victims. In the church was a section with no bodies.
There is a giant man lying by another door. His body lay in a distance of about seven meters from the rest. A strip of cassock draped his chest.
His body was partly burnt.
There were no chairs in the church except a burnt lantern that had no glass and stood at an entrance where most of the bodies lain. Small tins of margarine littered the cemented floor. The roof had collapsed and the ironsheets covered some of the bodies. We spent 10 minutes taking pictures.
There was no policeman on sight apart from LDUs; some wearing military uniform. Outside the church were other burnt out property.
Kibwetere's son had come with a colleague, Pantaleo Nturanabo, who was also my classmate.
Nturanabo asked me if Rugambwa should take some ash for the burial. I called Rugambwa aside and asked him if the father was among the dead and he said yes. He said Kibwetere on Thursday wrote to his wife, Theresa. In the letter, the first in three years, he said he had sent books which she should use to go on "with what we have been doing because we are going to perish."
Kibwetere, who was considered dead, had lost two of his children, Stella and Glory. He never came home nor sent a condolence message. His family, living in Kabumba, 5km from Rwashamaire town, have a farm where most of the children, including Rugambwa stay.
Rugambwa said when he heard that the the camp had been burnt, he had no doubt his father was among the dead.
"A week before, the residents told us they sold cows on their farm and a motorcycle and told whoever bought to pay the balance before March 17 because the Holy Spirit was coming to take them to heaven." I found at the camp, a woman who had lost a father, mother and two sons.
She was in a state of shock and could not talk.
She said her mother came to their home on Thursday and told them they would not see her again because they were going to heaven on March 17. Two of her grand children followed her. The woman said she tried to restrain them but failed.
Security and local sources said, two weeks before the incident, hundreds of believers were ferried in from Bushenyi and Rukungiri until Wednesday. They feasted on 70 crates of soda.
After the party, they burnt the church property and personal effects, including money. On Friday, a woman who came to see her relatives at the camp said they woke up in the morning and went to the church, formerly a dining hall.. They smeared themselves with oil, wore cassocks. They sealed off entrances to the church with nails and sang. Suddenly a blast went off and flames of fire leapt.

"The Police Account"

("New Vision" [Kampala], March 20, 2000)

Kampala - Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi visited the camp and talked to G.Matsiko.
-The mud and wattle church measures 115 by 20 feet.
- Had 235 registered members but many more came in.
-Police found a dark compartment in the compound suspected to be a grave yard for the cult members. -The members came from Rukungiri, Kabale, Ntungamo, Bushenyi, Kabale and Kampala districts.
-Entrances to the hall were sealed with long nails driven into door frames and windows to prevent escape.
-Before the D-Day, they had a party and drunk 70 creates of soda and slaughtered cows, sold off and burnt the remaining property.
-Midnight March 16, Karangwa, a member, took a land title, certificates of registration and the sect constitution to Kanungu Police Post for custody.
-A nun, Kelodoniya Mwerinde, went around Kanungu, saying they were going to heaven on March 17.
-A car belonging to Jack, a laboratory technician with Mbarara University of Science and Technology, was used to ferry people to the camp.
-Cult had ties with France, Austria, Italy and Germany.
-On Thursday, Annet Kamakune, from Fort Portal was not allowed to see family members in the camp but slept in the visitors' room before the night explosion.

Ten Commandments of God: Mass Suicide in Uganda

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Revised last: 22-03-2000