div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Tape recording said to be Mary was core belief of Ugandan cult"

by Declan Walsh ("Catholic News Service", March 21, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda (CNS) -- A tape recording said to have the voice of the Virgin Mary helped convert many to the Ugandan Christian sect that apparently committed mass suicide.
As many as 500 people might have died in a blaze in the church of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments the night of March 17.
The doors of the church were locked and the windows had been nailed shut. The sect's followers had been expecting the end of the world.
The sect leadership, which included an excommunicated Catholic politician who founded the group, Joseph Kibwetere, 68, and two suspended Catholic priests, claimed to have received regular visitations from the Virgin Mary. Kibwetere and the two suspended priests are thought to have perished in the blaze.
Kibwetere's son, Maurice Rugambwa, said his father had predicted the mass suicide in a letter just days earlier, local papers reported.
Those skeptical about the cult were converted using the tape recording, which was heard by a local nun, Our Lady of Good Counsel Sister Stella Maris.
``A woman's voice said: `I see that the world is suffering. Now I want to come down and restore the Ten Commandments,''' she said, speaking outside the church where the sect faithful perished in the fire.
On March 20, the bodies of five people, believed to have been murdered, were discovered in the compound's pit latrines.
Visiting the scene that day, Ugandan Minister for Internal Affairs Edward Rugumayo said he was ``99 percent certain'' those who perished in the blaze committed suicide.
This would make the mass suicide the second largest in living memory. The largest was the death of 914 followers of a cult lead by a U.S. pastor, Jim Jones, in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978.
However, regional police commander Stephen Okwalinga said he was treating the affair as a ``murder/suicide.'' Many local people believe that while the leaders were aware of the suicide plan, many of the sect's followers were not.
In a statement released March 20, the Ugandan bishops' conference decried the ``barbaric act'' of ``this unfortunate massacre'' and expressed condolences to families and friends who lost loved ones, ``particularly the misled youths and children that were involved.''
The bishops said the two suspended priests involved, Fathers Dominic Kataribaho, 64, and Joseph Kasipurari, 38, were repeatedly admonished by now-retired Bishop John Kakubi of Mbarara before their suspensions.
The victims ``were misled by obsessed leaders into an obnoxious form of religiosity completely rejected by the Catholic Church,'' the bishops said.
The bishops appealed to ``all the faithful, even to those groups claiming all classes of visions, to pay heed to the church authorities and to the authentic teaching of the church lest they risk going astray in the footsteps of the Kibwetere group.''
Father John Mary Waliko, an official in the justice and peace office of the Ugandan bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service March 21 that those killed in the blaze were buried in a mass grave and would not receive a Catholic funeral.
``They've been members of a cult which had been condemned by the church, whose leader was a lay Christian, he was excommunicated.
``There is no way they can hold a religious service, a Catholic service,'' he said.
The local Catholic priest, Father Christopher Busingye, visited the compound one week before the fire.
``The people looked miserable, as if they had no plan in life. They moved aimlessly around the compound, very quietly,'' he said.
He said he had gone to the compound to buy beans. The sect members were selling their property and all of their belongings.
``They told me it was to buy a new jeep and an electricity generator. I did not suspect a thing,'' he said.
Two leaders spoke on behalf of the sect, whose followers were forbidden from speaking.
``I asked them why they were preaching the end of the world. They said it was coming, but I never imagined it would happen this way,'' he said.
A stream of local people and relatives of the dead visited the sect's compound March 20. They clutched sprigs of rosemary to their noses as they silently filed past the piles of charred bodies inside the rough church building.
Charles Agaba lost his mother and three of his children in the blaze. His mother was converted, then she brought the three children, aged 11 to 14, to live with her on the compound in the village of Kunungu.
``They tried to convince me to join as well. They said the world was going to end and we should be saved, but I saw they were telling lies,'' he said.
The compound buildings, which followers believed were their Noah's Ark, were found empty after the blaze. A few garlands hung from the roof of a second church building, the only evidence of a huge party held by the followers before dousing themselves in gasoline and burning to death.
In a statement issued March 20, Bishop Robert Gay of Kabale said, ``These innocent victims are mostly baptized Christians who should be the object of our prayers to the merciful God, who is the sole judge of human frailties.''

"Poison claim as more Uganda cult bodies found"

by Lucy Hannon ("The Independent", March 21, 2000)

Mechanised diggers began the task of burying bodies in the Kanungu commune yesterday, after allowing grieving relatives time to take pieces of cloth, ash and bone to carry out personal burial rituals, as yet more bodies were discovered buried in disused latrines, apparently poisoned.
A pathologist flown in from Kampala released an initial figure of 330 dead, including 78 children, based on the number of skulls identifiable in the charred mass of incinerated bodies in the church building. But the grisly discoveries in the latrines - arms, legs and clothes just visible by torchlight in the deep underground pits - seemed likely to increase this number dramatically.
The assistant commissioner of police, Stephen Okwalinga, said police would excavate the latrines as soon as possible, and would also investigate recently dug vegetable gardens. Relatives and local officials claim people buried in the latrines may have been poisoned before the mass suicide, because the holes in the ground had been recently cemented over.
Yesterday, a steady line of relatives and security personnel continued to file through the narrow corridors and cubicles of the communal latrines, searching for signs of bodies, holding cloth and herbs to their nose to cope with the stench.
Mr Okwalinga said the police were investigating the commune deaths as "suicide and murder". There was evidence that the people had collected letters and photographs in the commune of "visiting white people". A police spokesman Afuman Mugenyi said the cult appeared to have ties with France, Austria, Italy and Germany, but did not give details.
Police say the cult was very secretive and they have only one woman helping with inquiries who had tried to visit family members the night before the suicide.
Inside the church building where people were incinerated, the heaviest concentration of distinguishable adult bodies is in the middle of the room, where a congregation appeared to have been headed by two or three leaders.
Most of the children were at the back, or under the adult bodies. Most gruesome is the semi-burnt body of a large man in a cassock lying just inside the boarded-up doorway, with a small child near his arms. There has been much local speculation that this was self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere.
Police say a number of leaders have been identified as dead but have not confirmed Kibwetere, or "priestess" Credonia Mwerinde, dead. Local papers report that Kibwetere's wife Theresa, who was not part of the movement, had received a letter from him written on 16 March encouraging her to carry on with the religion because members were going to die. Small tins of margarine and oil found among the corpses suggest some of the congregation may have smeared themselves with oil before chanting and singing, say officials. They were then locked into the room.
Any further clues to the behaviour of the fated congregation have now been buried as, by last night, mechanised diggers had demolished the building and pushed the tangled, charred mass of bones and flesh into a trench dug by local prisoners. Although many of the cult members were probably expecting a "miracle" rather than an agonising death, events suggest planned suicide on the part of the leaders - this included sales of property, predictions of the end of the world, a cult constitution and title deeds deposited at the local police station.

"Ugandan cult deaths started before mass suicide"

(News 24 [South Africa], March 21, 2000)

Kanungu, Uganda - Ugandan police on Tuesday uncovered the bodies of six people killed several days before up to 400 members of a doomsday cult burnt themselves to death in this village.
The bodies, four of them badly mutilated, were removed from latrines in the compound of the church of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments. They had been in the latrine for a week, according to forensic doctor Sam Birungi. The mass suicide took place in the compound on Friday.
"They had been killed before being thrown in these latrines, most probably with poison, but you can also see that some of them have wounds," said Birungi.
"The two first bodies were on the top and they don't bare any wounds even if it seems they have been burnt, whereas the four others, who were at the bottom, have been cut in the belly or strongly hit," added the doctor.
The skulls of 330 cult members, including 78 children whose deaths are being treated as murder, have so far been counted and the remains of many of those who died in Friday's fire were buried on Monday in a mass grave.
Since the burning of the members was so severe, an accurate final death toll is not ever expected. Interior Minister Rugumayo said that up to 400 people may have died in the inferno.
Among those working in the latrines was a man dressed in waterproof yellow overalls, a mask on his face connected to an air hose.
Two decomposed bodies lay nearby on straw mats.
"To make an autopsy, we need to take them to Kampala, but it will not help, so they will be buried straight away" said Birungi.
The wounds of some of the six were huge. Some showed signs of having been struck with machetes or hammers.
People in the vicinity did their best to ward off the stench of the dead by holding fragrant plants to their noses.
Although the six are reportedly in an identifiable state, their relatives were not given an opportunity to view the bodies before workers buried them.
"It is possible, according to some survivors, that some women had been buried in another room, but we don't have any confirmation yet," said Birungi.
"According to our investigation and our exploration of this place, there is no other chamber like this, but we never know," said Inspector Richard Mudungu of Mbarara fire brigade. in charge of recovering the bodies.
"They pushed the bodies through this hole and they then sealed it, we don't know why they did so, maybe to hide them," he said, explaining why the team had access to the bodies from outside the latrine building.
Earlier reports suggested that those in the latrines were killed because they wanted to expose the cult's plan to carry out the collective suicide.
Cult members were told the world would end this year and that "the next generation after the year 2000 will consist of people who will enter a new earth where sorrow and misery are absent."

"Unceremonious burial for cult victims"

(BBC, March 21, 2000)

Investigations are continuing in the village of Kanungu in western Uganda into the deaths of hundreds of people who set themselves alight at a cult church.
The police are due to start work to get bodies from a number of pit latrines at a house used by the cult leaders.
They have already found the bodies of five people believed to have been murdered by the cult.
But other latrines have been blocked off with fresh concrete and it is feared that many other bodies remain to be discovered.
Much of the burnt down church has been bulldozed and the bodies found there have been buried in a large trench by prisoners.
On Monday, police counted the remains of 330 people, including 78 children in the cult's compound.
Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, reduced to husks piled one on top of another and fused together by the heat.
Identification will be almost impossible and it is unlikely an exact death toll will ever be reached.
Suicide or murder?
Police say the adults who died would be treated as suicide victims, but those under 18 would be regarded as murder victims.
But some relatives of the victims believe that what happened at the church was murder.
One relative, Christine Kapere stood with a baby on her hip as she tearfully surveyed the place where her mother, father and 15 other relatives died.
Her parents had written to her, urging her to join their religion, as they were going to heaven.
She believes her parents were murdered.
"They were forced," she said. "They were not free".
Another relative who had come to the compound to visit her mother, told police that she had seen children leave the church to go out to play but that cult leaders then herded them back into the building, where she heard singing.
The woman then heard an explosion and shouts, police said.
Peering through a boarded-up window of the building where fire had broken out, the witness said she saw people in agony.
The authorities have announced that all branches of the cult are to be closed down.

"Ugandan cult murder suspicions grow"

(BBC, March 21, 2000)

The investigation into the Ugandan cult suicide has taken a sinister turn with the discovery of bodies which were apparently murdered before the blaze.
The partly decomposed bodies of six more cult members were removed from a pit latrine on Tuesday evening, near the church in the south-western region of Kanungu, where at least 330 burned to death on Friday.
Three of the bodies had their stomachs slit open, and another had a crushed head.
Some of the bodies appeared to have been struck with machetes or hammers.
A doctor at the scene said they appeared to have been murdered before the blaze, which swept through a church belonging to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
"Some were beaten, some were burnt, some were chemically poisoned then their bodies were dumped down in the pit," Dr Sam Birungi said.
'Preparing for Heaven'
Meanwhile, a woman who lost 17 family members in the inferno told how she believed her relatives had been murdered.
Christine Kapere, whose mother and father were among the cult members who died, said her parents had written to her saying they were "preparing to go to Heaven".
They had also tried to persuade her to join the sect, some of whose members nailed shut the doors of the church before setting it ablaze.
"I never believed in it, I knew it was a cult," Ms Kapere said.
Police are treating the case as part murder and part suicide. All of the 78 children who died are being treated as murder cases.
The bodies of the dead - including the six discovered on Tuesday - have been now buried, in some cases before the relatives had had a chance to provide identification.
Many of the bodies were so badly incinerated as to make identification almost impossible.
"To make an autopsy, we need to take them to Kampala, but it will not help, so they will be buried straight away," Dr Birungi said.
Bishops denounce cult
Uganda's Roman Catholic bishops have distanced themselves from the cult.
The sect members "were misled by obsessed leaders into an obnoxious form of religiosity completely rejected by the Catholic Church," the bishops said in a statement.
Sect leaders included several defrocked Catholic priests and nuns, and Catholic-style icons were found at the sect's place of worship.
The Ugandan authorities have said all branches of the cult will be closed down.

"Woman says Uganda cult murdered her family"

by Rosalind Russell (Reuters, March 21, 2000)

KANUNGU, Uganda (Reuters) - A woman who lost 17 family members in Uganda's doomsday cult blaze joined relatives paying respects to the dead and said she believed her family was murdered.
A mound of red earth marked the spot where the bodies of perhaps 500 cultists were unceremoniously buried in a mass grave. Nearby, inmates from a local prison dug to get at other bodies found in a pit latrine in the compound.
Christine Kapere, who drove to this remote corner of southwest Uganda from the Rwandan capital Kigali with her husband and young baby, said she lost her mother and father and 15 other relatives.
Her parents had tried to persuade her to join the doomed sect, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. "I never believed in it, I knew it was a cult," she said.
Kapere said her parents had written to her saying they were "preparing to go to Heaven".
But like many other relatives, she found it hard to believe they could have willingly taken their own lives. "It was forced," she said. "They have been murdered. It was not free".
The exact death toll may never be known, but officials said more than 500
people may have been killed in last Friday's tragedy, in which cult members, expecting the world to end, boarded themselves inside a church and set it ablaze.
Police said they were treating the case as both suicide and murder, because the bodies of at least 78 children were found among the dead.
The discovery on Monday of more bodies buried in the cult's compound in the small town of Kanungu cast an even more ominous light on the episode.
More than a dozen prisoners, dressed in ragged T-shirts and shorts and armed with hoes, began demolishing the walls of a latrine as officials prepared to pull out at least five bodies.
A fire brigade team stood by with oxygen masks as protection from the stench of death.
"What we are interested in is establishing the number of people down there and the conditions under which they died," said Dr Sam Birungi.
The cult's members apparently believed the world was about to be destroyed for not obeying the Ten Commandments, and that only those who gathered in
their church would gain salvation.
Prisoners started to bury the dead on Monday before a bulldozer arrived to finish the job.
As the sun set over the lush green hills, the bulldozer demolished the mud and cement walls of the ruined church, then scooped up the remaining bodies and threw them with the rubble into a hole in the ground.
"It is a shame that they are being buried like animals," said Patrick, a Ugandan soldier as he watched the burial. "They were Christians and there were no final prayers."
The Roman Catholic church in Uganda has disowned the sect, which was led by a failed politician and several excommunicated Catholic priests and nuns.
"No mass will be celebrated in the affected families and churches until further communication," Archbishop Paul Bakyenga of western Uganda said in a terse three-line statement to priests in the region on Tuesday.
Officials said on Monday they intended to close down four other centres used by the sect in southwestern Uganda, but local police commanders contacted by Reuters on Tuesday said they had not yet received instructions to move against remnants of the sect.
Whether they find anything when they do seems doubtful. Local residents said cult members had been arriving at Kanungu from other centres several days before the blaze.
Police say they suspect the sect's leader, 68-year-old Joseph Kibwetere, died in the fire, and say they have identified the bodies of two of his associates.

"Mourners weep for relatives lost in cult inferno"

by Robin Lodge ("The Times" [London], March 21, 2000)

The relatives of the dead shuffled along the outside the church, glancing in at the charred bodies of children lying curled against each other, or with their arms hopelessly outstretched.
They wept quietly, holding their noses and clutching sprigs of rosemary to their faces to disguise the smell of burnt flesh. They came in the pouring rain, as Ugandan prisoners began burying the corpses of Friday's mass suicide, piling their remains into a grave on the hillside next to the church.
The scale of the horror continued to unfold throughout the day, including the discovery of more bodies. At least 20 were found buried in a pit latrine, and further corpses were dug up in a vegetable patch outside.
As estimates of the death toll reached 500, including nearly 80 children, relatives said they believed that many of the dead had no idea of the fate awaiting them when they went into the church in Kanungu village in southwest Uganda. They also said that many of the doomsday cult members were duped into taking part. "It's horror. It's just murder and horror," said one elderly farmer who turned up at the scene. "It should be called murder, especially for the children. They were innocent."
Some members of the sect, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, had been told by cult leaders that they would meet the Virgin Mary. Others were simply expecting an unspecified miracle when they entered the church on Friday morning, dressed in their white, green and black robes.
It was not confirmed yesterday whether the cult's leader, Joseph Kibwetere, 68, a former opposition politician, was among the dead, although there were strong indications that he was. There were suggestions that the body of one of the dead, burnt black but with a clerical collar stuck to the neck and remnants of a cassock also visible, was that of Mr Kibwetere. The remains of small plastic containers, which police believed carried the fuel used to start the fire, were found close to the body.
Mr Kibwetere's son, Rugambwe, said that he had found a letter from his father to his mother, Theresa, written on Thursday. In the letter, Mr Kibwetere apparently urged his wife to carry on with their religious organisation "because the members of the cult were going to perish".
Police said that they were treating the deaths as mass murder, rather than suicide, because many of the victims were children and babies and others had been coerced into attending the service. They said they believed that Mr Kibwetere may have organised the suicides after his prophecy that the world would end on December 31, 1999, had failed to come true. They are also working on the theory that other cult members may have perished before Friday's church blaze. Asuman Mugenyi, a police spokesman, said that investigators were excavating a nearby building used as a dormitory by the cult for possible secret graves.
The fact that the church doors had been locked and windows nailed shut appeared to support the theory that no one was allowed to escape alive.
President Museveni of Uganda expressed his shock at the massacre and accused cult leaders of luring innocent people to their deaths. He condemned what he described as an "horrific, senseless and tragic act".

"Ugandans Count Bodies, and Ask Why"

by Henry E. Cauvin ("The New York Times", March 21, 2000)

KANUNGU, Uganda, March 20 -- The counting of corpses came to an end today in this lush mountain village where hundreds of followers of a doomsday cult died in an apocalyptic inferno.
The burnt and twisted remains of the dead, found after their tin-roofed chapel was set ablaze Friday, were dumped into a mass grave.
What was left of the church was torn down, too, and tossed in the ditch.
But as the physical effects of the horror were being buried, questions tormented the relatives and friends of the dead.
Even the most basic questions, like how many people died, and the exact circumstances of the deaths, may well remain a mystery.
Sifting through the charred bodies, the police counted 330 people, 78 of them children. But an untold number were burned to ashes, leaving investigators with little to identify. Ugandan officials said the number of dead could exceed 500.
That would make this the largest mass suicide since nearly 1,000 followers of Jim Jones died 22 years ago in Guyana after drinking, or being forced to drink, a cyanide-poisoned fruit drink. But some local people here say they are skeptical that so many would have willingly lost their lives.
Rutenda Didas, a local administrator, told Reuters that the believers may have willingly walked into the church, only to be duped. "It was planned by their leaders," he suggested.
Police officers said they thought that all five of the leaders of the sect, the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, died in the fire.
The leaders included Joseph Kibweteere, 68, a former Roman Catholic priest, and Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, an ex-prostitute.
Cmdr. Stephen Okwalinga, the regional police coordinator who supervised the pathologists and police officers who sorted through the site today, said in an interview that the police were trying to determine if there were other branches of the Ten Commandments to shut them down.
Surveillance of other sects will also be stepped up, Commander Okwalinga said. "We have to really scrutinize their interests and their activities the best we can."
A number of mystical religious groups have sprung up in Uganda in recent decades as social and political problems have worsened.
The Lord's Resistance Army, self-styled revolutionaries who have terrorized the northern part of the country, started as a Christian fundamentalist sect, known as the Holy Spirit Movement, in 1986.
Its leader, Alice Lakwena, claimed to give her followers immunity from bullets by anointing them with holy water.
And last September, the police evicted a thousand cult members from an illegal settlement where a self-proclaimed prophet was said to be selling places in heaven for those who paid the most.
The police accused that group of committing crimes including rape, abduction and theft.
Many questions remain about the Ten Commandments cult, but villagers say they had long wary of the group's allure.
The cult apparently drew its members from all over the country to this village 200 miles from the capital, Kampala.
But the group, apparently led by a former Catholic priest named Joseph Kwibweteere, prevented its members from communicating with outsiders, villagers said, and required many to sell their belongings before joining.
"All of the people from this area refused to join," Anne Kaberaho, who lives near the church compound, said in an interview. "The way they were treating their people was not good."
The villagers told local reporters that members of the cult had recently reported a sighting of the Virgin Mary.
And last week, they said, the followers feasted on a roast bull and soda pop after selling their remaining possessions and bidding their friends goodbye.
Today, the compound, made up of cinder-block buildings, drew gawkers who watched from a distance as a hulking backhoe dug a giant grave.
Closer in, soldiers, laborers and police officers stood with the same muted curiosity.
Some clutched their heads in their hands. Others held handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses.
Grace Kemerwa came with her shaken relatives to see the place where an aunt and 10 of her aunt's children seem to have met their end. She said her aunt was summoned here a week before the fire.
"I'm just confused," Ms. Kemerwa said, staring at the piles of bodies.
"I'm confused about how people could do this. People who are sane could not do this."

"No sex, hard labour for Uganda death cult members"

by Rosalind Russell (Reuters, March 21, 2000)

KANUNGU, March 21 (Reuters) - The hundreds of followers of the Ugandan Doomsday cult who died en masse in a church blaze on Friday were forbidden by their leaders to have sex and were forced into hard labour without payment.
Relatives and former cult members said men and women, including married couples, slept in separate dormitories and no children were ever born to members of the 13-year-old cult.
``Nobody ever produced a child,'' said Marsiali Baryeihahwenki, the uncle of one of the cult's leaders. ``One time there was a woman who became pregnant and she was beaten until she miscarried. In the end she left the religion.''
Up to 400 members of the ``Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God'' perished in a petrol-fuelled blaze in their boarded up church in the small town of Kanungu in southwest Uganda on Friday morning.
The discovery on Monday of more bodies dumped in a pit latrine shed a more sinister light on what initially looked to be a mass ritual suicide.
Ugandan police say they have launched a murder inquiry as they suspect that many of the adults and certainly the dozens of children who died were lured unsuspectingly to their fate.
Baryeihahwenki said families were separated when they joined the cult and members were moved around frequently between several different sites in the impoverished farming region of southwestern Uganda to stop them forming attachments.
``They would come with a pick-up and tell people to get in with no warning,'' he said. ``They were moved around all the time.''
Members were told that the world would end at the beginning of the new Millennium. They would be delivered to heaven if they gave up all their earthly goods and followed the doctrine of the cult which allowed them to communicate only in gestures.
The movement was founded in 1987 by charismatic former politician Joseph Kibwetere after he said he heard a conversation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus which he had recorded on a cassette tape.
Baryeihahwenki's niece Gredonia Mwerinda, a former barmaid and prostitute, teamed up with Kibwetere the same year after she too said she received a calling from the Virgin Mary.
Mwerinda grew rich at the expense of her followers, owning a huge farm, several shops and vehicles, and she travelled frequently around Africa to evangelise and recruit new members, Baryeihahwenki said.
But she seems to have met the same fate as her followers. Police said this week they had identified her body among the charred corpses, and suspected Kibwetere died as well.
Leaders wore white robes, while members who had given generously on recruitment wore green.
The remainder were allowed to dress only in black and were put to work in the fields or workshop without payment. Disobedience was punished with canings or food deprivation.
``They made me work until I was exhausted. We were treated like serfs,'' said Emmanuel Bisgye who abandoned the sect three years ago but lost 25 relatives in the blaze. ``If we sold any food or any crafts we were not allowed to keep the money.''
The children that new recruits brought to the cult were also put to work, fetching water and firewood, he said.
A primary school run by cult leaders was closed down in 1998 by local authorities who said in a report that children were malnourished and made to sleep on the floor without mattresses or blankets.
Bisgye, who simply walked away from the field where he was working one day, said he was one of very few who left the cult.
``We all of us believed in the Blessed Mary. We thought that she would make miracles for us and save us,'' he said.

"Uganda cult death toll 'could reach 600' fears: Murder theory as more bodies found"

by Geoff Meade ("The Journal", March 21, 2000)

The death toll from a cult's mass killings inside a blazing Ugandan church may reach 600, it was revealed yesterday, as more bodies, of people police believe were murdered, were recovered.
Four days after the fire at the church compound belonging to the Christian sect Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, police said they had counted 500 bodies.
"It may be a total of 600," said police spokesman Asumani Mugenyi, adding that they would be buried in a mass grave.
Earlier reports had put the number of victims at between 235 and 470.
Richard Opira, district public health officer, said investigators found several pit latrines close to the church that had been covered in fresh cement and, when they opened the first one, discovered more bodies.
"We found five bodies on the surface and when we shone a torch there were more underneath," he said. "They haven't been wounded so we think they were strangled or maybe poisoned."
The grim discoveries, which were expected to reinforce speculation that many of those killed were murdered rather than willing participants, stretched all around the church.
"We are now digging up bodies in the vegetable patch," Opira said as investigators prepared to uncover the other pit latrines and labourers dug a long pit to bury the cult members.
Police said all five leaders of the sect, four of them former Roman Catholic priests or lay workers, had died in the Friday morning blaze just outside Kanungu trading centre, 220 miles southwest of Kampala.
Mugenyi identified the leaders as Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, a former prostitute who built the group's compound on the farm of her late father; Joseph Kibweteere, 68, a former Roman Catholic priest in Kabale diocese north of Kanungu; and Dominic Kataribabo, 32, Joseph Kasapurari, 39, and John Kamagara, 69 - all reported to be former priests.
Mugenyi said the identification of the alleged leaders was not based on forensic evidence but on "comments from local people" who told police the five had been inside the building - said to have been sealed from the inside before the fire began. Christian religious sects are mushrooming across Africa as many people become disillusioned with the inability of politicians to improve their lives. The Kanungu sect has branches in several other parts of Uganda.

"Cult leader played tape of voice he said was the Virgin Mary's: Mass suicide toll could reach 500, Ugandan police say"

by Paul Harris ("The Daily Telegraph", March 21, 2000)

KANUNGU, Uganda - Ugandan police investigating the deaths of hundreds of members of a cult in a church fire, yesterday found at least five bodies buried nearby in a pit latrine freshly sealed with cement.
Authorities suspect that others are hidden beneath a vegetable garden inside the sect's compound and that they died from poisoning or suffocation in a possible sign that some members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God tried to oppose plans for mass suicide.
Police were already considering whether the death of at least 78 children in the blaze in the south-western town of Kanungu on Friday was murder rather than suicide. One of the cult's schools was closed in 1998 after authorities found it mistreated and abducted children.
As barefoot prisoners began burying the charred remains of the victims, the death count was unclear. But police believe it will be more than 500.
"It may be a total of 600," said Asumani Mugenyi, a police spokesman.
Edward Rugumayo, Uganda's minister for internal affairs, said police had counted the skulls of 330 people in the charred ruins of the church.
The macabre new discoveries came as bizarre details of the beliefs of the 68-year-old leader of the cult emerged. Joseph Kibweteere, a self-styled bishop, thought he was instructed by voices from Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary that he had recorded on audio tape.
Residents of Kanungu described how Mr. Kibweteere would play the tape to followers who would listen as a woman's voice exhorted people to obey the Ten Commandments or face the end of the world.
"The Ten Commandments have been distorted; we are putting them right," was the cult's rallying cry.
Mr. Kibweteere, who was once a senior figure in the opposition Democratic Party, was also a wealthy poultry and dairy farmer before founding his cult in 1987. He was once a Roman Catholic priest in Kabale diocese north of Kanungu and many of his followers were formerly Catholics.
According to villagers, he had predicted doomsday for Dec. 31, 1999, and when it failed to occur moved the date back a year. But for some reason the self-styled prophet changed his mind again and chose last Friday morning as the moment to lead his followers to their deaths.
Police said all five leaders of the sect, four of them former Roman Catholic priests or lay workers, died in the blaze just outside Kanungu trading centre, 350 kilometres southwest of Kampala.
Mr. Mugenyi identified the leaders as Mr. Kibweteere; Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, a former prostitute who built the group's compound on the farm of her late father; and Dominic Kataribabo, 32, Joseph Kasapurari, 39, and John Kamagara, 69.
Mr. Mugenyi said the identification of the alleged leaders was not based on forensic evidence but on "comments from local people" who told police the five had been inside the building.
Wearing green, black and white robes, whole families filed into the church mid-morning for several hours of singing and chanting. They then boarded up the doors and windows, nailing them shut and sealing their fate.
Standing near the sealed-off remains of the church, Bamutoraine Bangester fought back tears as she told how she had lost 15 members of her family in the blaze.
Cousins, nieces and nephews had joined the church over the past few years and drifted away from their other relatives, she said.
It seems that local authorities should have realized something was wrong. Last Wednesday, the usually austere cult members gathered for a goodbye party in their compound, where they drank 70 crates of soft drinks and slaughtered and ate three bulls.
The next day, some members sold off their prized cattle at cheap prices and then gathered again to destroy their remaining possessions. In a grim foreboding of their own fate, a bonfire of clothing, suitcases, church materials and even money was lit inside their compound.
Finally, a few sect followers toured nearby villages saying farewell to neighbours, relatives and friends. "They came to say goodbye. They said they had got rid of all their possessions because they would not need them in heaven," said Rutenda Didas, a farmer.
Villagers say cult followers generally kept to themselves and shunned contact with others. Rumours circulated that members had developed their own sign language and rarely spoke at all for fear of breaking the Commandments.

"Clavaron las ventanas y se untaron con brea y gasolina para arder mejor: El enviado de EL MUNDO descubre en Uganda los horrores de una trampa mortal y la conexión valenciana de la secta maligna"

by Javier Espinosa ("El Mundo", March 21, 2000 [in Spanish])

KANUNGU (UGANDA).- Terrible mensaje. Sobre la pizarra de la escuela, una mano anónima dejó escrito Let us kill ourselves «Dejadnos matarnos a nosotros mismos».
Y los más de 500 adeptos de la secta Restauración de los Diez Mandamientos de Dios que murieron el viernes pasado se dedicaron a ello con el empeño de unos profesionales. En los alrededores de la iglesia se podían apreciar ayer todavía decenas de recipientes de gasolina vacíos. Apilados en el suelo. Junto a ellos, numerosos bidones de brea. En las ventanas se aprecian claramente los clavos que sellaban las bisagras para impedir su apertura.
«Creemos que los rociaron de combustible y los untaron con brea. Por eso no se salvó nadie y los cuerpos están tan achicharrados», explicó el teniente Emmy Twagira, de la policía local.
El efecto de ese pringue desquiciado fue devastador. Basta con echar una ojeada a los restos del templo. Los dos primeros cadáveres permanecen agarrados, como enlazados en un macabro baile. A su lado reposa otra pareja carbonizada. Con el cráneo reventado -explotó ante la intensidad de las llamas- y los brazos y piernas consumidos hasta la mitad.
Después, las formas se difuminan en medio de una amalgama espeluznante de carne calcinada, negra; una alfombra de huesos abrasados, cuando no de simple ceniza. En ciertos casos se adivina una masa informe de escaso tamaño. Son los niños, algunos tan pequeños como bebés. El olor es insoportable. Tan sólo las moscas celebran tamaño festín.
Lo denominaban la Tierra Sagrada. Pero para los miembros del Movimiento por la Restauración de los Diez Mandamientos de Dios esta granja, sita a las afueras de Kanungu, fue poco más que una pira demencial. Todavía ayer la policía no podía ofrecer un balance exacto de los muertos. La estimación oficial es que oscilan entre 330 y 400, aunque los diarios ugandeses situaban esa cifra por encima de los 500.
Enterrados como basura
En realidad, nunca se sabrá. A las 16.30 horas de ayer, una excavadora enterró en una fosa común la montaña de restos humanos entremezclados con los ladrillos de adobe y las planchas de metal de la iglesia. «Así acaba la locura.. Enterrados como basura, junto a escombros», apuntaba James Odeu, un curioso.
Son legión los que han venido desde las aldeas cercanas para presenciar el escenario del suicidio colectivo. Los discípulos de Joseph Kibwetere habían erigido un reducto modélico en esta recóndita región limítrofe con el Congo. El complejo agrícola contaba con dos templos, dos escuelas, dos habitáculos usados como dormitorios, cuartos de baño, un coqueto jardín y una pequeña granja.
Antes de matarse, los perturbados esparcieron por todo el recinto docenas de rosarios de color verde -el verde y el rojo eran sus distintivos-, crucifijos y figurillas de barro representando a Jesús y María. Sobre una mesa permanecía una colección de 11 representaciones del pie de Jesucristo con la herida del clavo y una rosa.
La secta llevaba perfectamente la contabilidad. Al menos hasta junio de 1999. Curioso, pero en marzo ahorraron 39.157 shillings (4.500 pesetas); en abril, 2.862 (335 pesetas); y en junio sólo 12. Después nada, sólo líneas sobre la cartulina que pegaron en la pared.
Quizás porque Kibwetere afirmaba que el fin del mundo llegaría el pasado 31 de diciembre. El mismo razonamiento que esgrimía Emmanuel Twinomujuni, de 19 años y miembro del grupo, que cuando fue requerido por un periodista local en mayo de 1999 replicó sin dudar: «¿Ir a la escuela? ¿Para qué? El mundo se acaba este año. No hay tiempo que perder».
Una filosofía delirante que alimentaban no sólo Kibwetere sino dos ex sacerdotes católicos, Joseph Kasapurari y Dominic Kataribabo, varias antiguas monjas e incluso cuatro policías.
El propio hijo de Kibwetere se personó el sábado en Kanungu y confirmó que el autodenominado «profeta» se había despedido formalmente de su madre Teresa mediante una misiva que le envió el día 16 desde la granja. «Le pedía que continuara con la religión porque todos losmiembros del culto iban a morir al día siguiente», señaló Rugambwa Kibwetere.
Rugambwa -que se muestra convencido de que su padre se cuenta entre las víctimas- añadió que éste les envió una maleta llena de libros de rezos y cánticos espirituales. Según el vástago del líder mesiánico, Kibwetere se trasladó al campamento el pasado día 14 en compañía de los dos ex religiosos citados, que actuaban como una suerte de lugartenientes.
Varios residentes de Kanungu consultados por este diario afirmaron que el alucinado personaje decidió convocar a sus discípulos para el día 17 «paraver a la Virgen María».
«Una chica me explicó el sábado que su madre la había visitado el jueves y que le dijo que no se volverían a ver porque el 17 se marchaba al cielo», aclara Richar Tusiime, del diario The New Vision, el primer periodista que llegó hasta Kanungu.
Decenas de platos y vasos regados por el recinto recuerdan su último festejo, en el que dieron buena cuenta de dos vacas. Después se untaron de brea. No alcanzaron el cielo. Se sumieron en el infierno más real.

"«Estoy seguro de que mucha gente ha sido asesinada»: Bernard Atuhaire, profesor de inglés en Valencia, estuvo en Kanungu, en la sede de la secta, a la que pertenecía su familia"

by Javier Cavanilles ("El Mundo", March 21, 2000 [in Spanish])

VALENCIA.- El enviado de EL MUNDO a Kanungu encontró ayer, entre los restos calcinados de los miembros de la secta, una carta en cuyo remite figura una dirección de Valencia. Está firmada por Bernard Atuhaire, a quien se pudo localizar ayer en la capital del Turia, donde enseña inglés en una conocida academia.
Bernard confirmó ser el autor de la misiva. Este es el relato que hizo a EL MUNDO de una reciente visita a la granja en la que vivía la secta, entre cuyos miembros figuraban su padre y sus cinco hermanos.
Hasta el próximo viernes, cuando tome un avión a Uganda, estará pendiente de Internet. Por ahora, el listado de víctimas ya ha confirmado que su padre y uno de sus hermanos son dos de los muertos en el suicidio colectivo del pasado sábado.
«Estoy seguro de que mucha gente ha sido asesinada», señala, «había personas que querían salir de ahí, pero no les dejaban». Atuhaire recuerda ahora cómo fueron los cinco días que, el pasado agosto, pasó junto a los seguidores de Joseph Kibwetere (con cuyos hijos estudió en el instituto). Su intención era doble: Recuperar el contacto con su familia, perdido por la distancia, e intentar convencerles de que, por lo menos, respetaran la voluntad de sus hermanos más pequeños y les dejaran volver con el único de sus hermanos que no formaba parte del movimiento.
La historia de Atuhaire se remonta a 1989, en los primeros años de la secta.. Cuando dejó su país para estudiar en Australia ya notaba que su familia, fervientes cristianos todos, estaban deslizándose por una senda cuyo destino era incierto. «Al principio iban mucho a la iglesia y cada vez más se iban acercando a los seguidores de Kibwetere. Luego empezaban a reunirse en nuestra casa y, lentamente, la fueron transformando en una especie de santuario».
Extraña liturgia
Los objetos religiosos eran prácticamente los únicos objetos de decoración que tenían, y las ceremonias se realizaban siguiendo una extraña liturgia. «Al principio se negaban a comulgar de pie, creían que ofendía a Dios, y lo hacían de rodillas. Mi hermano, ordenado sacerdote, fue excomulgado por ser cada vez más integrista. Con otros como él fue consolidándose el movimiento».
A su regreso a Uganda, en 1994, vivió algunos momentos de tensión familiar. El movimiento no cree en la educación tradicional, así que su familia decidió que la menor de la familia debía dejar de estudiar. «A través de un familiar que trabajaba con el Obispo de Uganda, intentamos hacerles entrar en razón pero no fue posible», asegura Atuhaire. Ahora confía en que su nombre no se sume al de la interminable lista de las víctimas de Kibwetere.
«Por aquella época», explica, «era muy difícil imaginar lo que ha ocurrido. Aunque estaban convencidos de que sobrevivirían al fin del mundo, no hablaban de ninguna fecha en concreto. Este verano, una de las monjas encargadas del lugar sí que nos dijo que el Apocalipsis sería durante el año 2000, pero tampoco creímos que esto podía terminar así».
Una vez en España, ya con su mujer y sus tres hijos, Atuhaire intentó no romper los lazos con su familia. «La noticia más importante que tuve es que habían vendido todas las tierras de la familia y las casas: las puertas, las ventanas... todo lo que pudieron. El dinero fue a parar al movimiento», señala. Esta práctica, explica Atuhaire, es habitual en los miembros de la secta, que entregan todas sus posesiones a la organización para poder ir a vivir a alguno de los centros con que cuenta en Uganda.
Durante el pasado año, Atuhaire decidió pasar el mes de agosto en Uganda. Reservó 11 días para visitar el lugar que el pasado sábado fue pasto de las llamas, en el que vivía parte de su familia.
«Aunque yo no soy tan religioso como ellos, les escribí diciendo que queríamos que bautizaran allí a nuestros hijos, que no lo están. Creímos que, ya que no les conocían y no habían podido asistir a mi boda, les gustaría la idea», recuerda.
Sin embargo, no fue así. «Al llegar, mis padres mostraron bastante indiferencia hacia sus nietos. Además, querían que mis tres hijos realizaran un curso antes de bautizarse y no estábamos dispuestos», explica Atuhaire.
Elvira, su mujer, califica de «raro» el ambiente. «No es que tuviéramos un miedo físico a que nos hicieran algo, pero era el ambiente». Apenas tuvieron otro contacto que el visual con las más de 200 personas que habitaban el lugar, un valle situado a muchas horas en coche del lugar más cercano. «Entre ellos no hablaban, se comunicaban por escrito o con signos. Con nosotros tampoco, en parte porque no sabíamos su idioma, pero también porque nos mantenían alejados de los demás», añade.
Apenas pudieron ver cómo era la vida en aquel lugar. «A nosotros nos construyeron una cabaña para cada matrimonio, pero ellos vivían, probablemente, en casas comunitarias, separados por sexos, pero tampoco lo vimos. Nuestra alimentación era la habitual en otros puntos de Uganda (bananas, salsa de cacahuete, pollo, carne...), pero ellos probablemente se alimentaban con lo mínimo», señala.
En aquel poblado, su moradores tenían todo lo que podían desear. Casas para dormir, un colegio, animales, tierras... aunque no había electricidad. Comparado con otros poblados que visitaron, Elvira considera que el lugar tenía un aspecto algo mejor. «Habían creado una comunidad para mantenerse alejados del resto del mundo, pero parecía que esa era el arca de Noe de la que hablaban y que iban a seguir así», añade Atuhaire. Un suicidio colectivo era lo último que se podía esperar.
Su contacto con los habitantes de aquel lugar fue prácticamente nulo, todo se hacía a través de su hermano Joseph, uno de los dirigentes, y de otros miembros de los llamados apóstoles.
Estructura jerarquizada
«Era una estructura muy jerarquizada. Había unos pocos que transmitían las órdenes de Kibwetere (quien se mostró siempre bastante distante), los apóstoles. El resto obedecía las órdenes y eran los que se encargaban del trabajo de construcción, del campo, de atender a los animales. A éstos se les veía con miedo», afirma Atuhaire. Otro dato que les llamó la atención era la ausencia de estructuras familiares. «No creen en el matrimonio y, aunque había miembros de una misma familia, no actuaban como tal», apunta.
Desde su regreso a España, el contacto con sus familiares fue escaso. La semana pasada, su padre, que hasta entonces no vivía en la granja, decidió trasladarse a la sede de la secta. Allí vivió los tres días que, según su creencia, precederían a la llegada de un mundo mejor. Su nombre, junto con el de uno de sus hijos, es uno de los que figura en la lista de muertos identificados. Con angustia, Atuhaire espera que la lista no siga aumentando.

"Kibwetere Warned the Govt"

("New Vision" [Kampala], March 21, 2000)

'PROPHET' Joseph Kibwetere, the Rukungiri suicide cult leader, last week made "a veiled warning" of the planned mass murder in his non-governmental organisation's annual report to the ministry of internal affairs.
Simon Kaheru quotes ministry sources as saying they saw 68-year-old Kibwetere, leader of the 'Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, deliver the report on Tuesday. He was with an unidentified woman and man..
NGO board secretary Joni Kasigaire was unavailable for comment but sources said they saw the document.
"The report said something like their mission was coming to an end, and there would be no 2001. Instead, next year would be year number 1, starting with a new generation," an official said.
Close to 600 men, women and children are believed to have died in a fire on Friday.
"The report talked of forgiveness from whoever they had wronged and that they were ready to forgive anyone who had wronged them. It seems they were sending a warning but it was obscure at the time," the official said.
Reports said the cult invited LC officials to Kanungu, the church site, for a party on Saturday, believed to be a decoy to explain away the crowds gathering at the camp.
Meanwhile, an associate of the cult leaders (identity withheld) who refused to convert to the doomed faith, yesterday said the cult sprouted as a protest group against the Catholic Church in Uganda.
Two of its leaders, Father Dominic Kataribaabo and Joseph Kasapurari, were ex-Roman Catholic priests and two other nuns. Kataribaabo was once rector (head) at St. Francis Xavier Seminary Kitabi in the late 1970's and early 1980's. He is also said to have obtained a Bachelor's degree in History at Makerere University and a Masters degree in Psychology at a university in California.

"Cult Branches to be Closed Down"

by Felix Osike ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 21, 2000)

THE Government is to close down all the branches of the doomsday cult of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments whose followers perished in a mass suicide on Friday at Kanungu, Rukungiri. 
At least 500 people died in the inferno in the church.
Internal affairs minister Edward Rugumayo told the press in Kampala shortly after he returned from the scene yesterday that the Government would also follow up other sects and ensure their registration is subjected to thorough scrutiny.
"We intend to be very strict. The closure of the remaining branches will be automatic and immediate," he said.
The branches are in Rutooma, Rubirizi and Rugazi in Bushenyi and Kyaka in Kabarole.
He said, "We can't stop freedom of worship but we must ensure it's done in accordance with the law."
Rugumayo said pathologists at the scene had by yesterday counted 330 charred bodies, 78 of them of children. He said the rest of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition but the number could be more than 500.
The Police said the Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo, one Karwango and other two Rev. Sisters also died in the inferno.
Rugumayo said prior to their death, the believers paid their graduated taxes, including arrears and other debts.
He said the Government could not take blame for laxity in security because security officials in that area "did not suspect that these people had any motive other than advancing the cause of their beliefs."  
"We were not negligent. The way they behaved towards the community was so friendly that it was not possible for us to suspect them," he said. 
He said the believers sold their properties under the guise of buying land and vehicles.
Inspector General of Police John Kisembo called for public support to report "some of these fanatics operating in the communities." 
He said the figure of the dead so far does not include some bodies buried in a pit-latrine near the church.
There are also some bodies beneath one of the walls, which collapsed.
He said an excavator had been taken to extract the bodies in the pit latrine and in the rubble.
Kisembo said pathologists were analysing some samples and tracing surviving leaders for interrogation over the murder.

"Bodies Found in Latrines"

by Grace Matsiko ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 21, 2000)

A POLICE investigations team has discovered more corpses buried in pit latrines, vegetable gardens and a building at the scene of the suspected mass suicide in Kanungu, Rukungiri.
About 500 people, including about 78 children, perished when their church was set ablaze.
The Police was considering whether their death was suicide or murder.
The bodies buried in the pit latrine and those found in the building are believed to have been buried about a week ago.
Residents say the bodies were those of people who were killed for threatening to report the planned mass suicide.
Police spokesman Asuman Mugyenyi said they suspect about four people were buried in a dark apartment which used to be a dormitory. Several others were buried in gardens in the camp.
He said the cement used for the apartment floor looked new, about a week old.
"There were graveyards around the church. In the compound was an apartment or a bathroom where we suspect four people were buried," Mugyenyi said.
"In the apartment there was a terrible stench coming from the inner rooms," he added.
A police investigator told Reuters, they found five bodies on the surface of the pit-latrine but when a torch was shone there, more bodies were discovered. He said the bodies showed no wounds, indicating they were strangled or poisoned.
Local and security sources said the remains of an estimated 400-500 people are to be buried in mass graves at the scene of the suicide.
Police confirmed the cult leader, self-styled prophet, Joseph Kibwetere, was among those who died in the inferno.
Other leaders confirmed dead in the fire are Sister Keledoniya Mwerinde, 48 and daughter to late Paul Kashanku.  Kashanku donated the 10-acre property to the cult.
Yesterday, friends and relatives of the victims stood in the heavy rain surveying the scene with rosemary sprigs held against their noses to stave off the stench of the rotting bodies.
Other cult leaders who are among the dead were John Kamagara, 69 and Karangwa.
The latter, according to Police records, handed over the cult land title, certificate of registration and constitution to Kanungu Police for custody, claiming some people wanted to steal it.
The Police identified the cult leaders as: Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, 64, Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary Kasapurare, 38, Rev. Sr. Usura Komuhangi, 32, Angelina Mugisha, 28, Henry Byarugaba 55, Scholastica Kamagara, Charles Byaruhanga, 31, Sitereya Kyezire, 28 and Jane Kasande, 32.
Another victim is believed to be Clara Bamuturaki, mother to Justin Beyendeza of Rank Consult, and navigator for rally driver, Chipper Adams.
The deputy director information and public relations at the Movement Secretariat, Magode Ikuya, said they were horrified at the incident of mass loss of life at the hands of a cult sect.
"Currently there is a proliferation of sham religious sects, social deviants, criminal elements and vagabonds who are using the present Movement era of democracy and freedom to organise programmes of destabilisation and anarchy," he said.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that one of the female church leaders said to be on the run fleeced the cult members of sh12m while others say a row had erupted in the group before the incident.
Sources said the cult leaders taught their followers sign language so that they could communicate without uttering a word.
Unlike the cult in Luweero which attracted mainly the Bahima herdsmen, the one in Kanungu comprised Bairu peasants from Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Kabale and Mbarara.
"Those who joined were the poorest of the poor," Richard Mutazindwa, a government official told the Washington Post at Kanungu.
"They had Catholic Fathers who were trained and ordained. One could not suspect they had other hidden motives," he added.
The Southwestern Regional Police Commander, Stephen Okwalinga, said the dead told their relatives to pick them on Friday afternoon.
A bell was rung in mid-morning and members made their way down the hill.
On the way, some paused at a storehouse to pour down a path, the food they would no longer need.
The walkway is caked with millet flour.
More bodies were found in what was described as the "leaders house."
Okwalinga said the Police have not had time to look at those.
The leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God told their followers that Doomsday would come in the Millennium Year and they should gather together to be saved and delivered to heaven.
"All along they had said 'the prayer house' is the boat of Noah. This is the ark and at the time of calamity they would come here," said Florence, a shopkeeper in Kanungu.

"Police Disown Dead Officers"

("New Vision" [Kampala], March 21, 2000)

THE four people named as police officers, among the Kanungu mass suicide victims were not in active service, reports Milton Olupot.
The Police yesterday said two of the four had developed mental problems and had been on sick leave awaiting retirement or any other action by the Police Council. One deserted the force and the other had never served in it.
About 500 people could have perished in the inferno in Kanungu church on  Friday morning when the members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God set themselves ablaze inside their church.
The Monitor newspaper quoted Chief Police spokesman, Asuman Mugenyi, on Sunday, as saying among the dead were four Mobile Police Patrol Unit (MPPU) personnel from Naguru headquarters, identified as PC 22769 Robert Bikoranga and his child Rogers, PC John Biryomumaisho, PC Charles Lwanga and PC Deus. He said ex-policeman PC 21469 Byamugisha lured the four colleagues into the cult.
MPPU commandant ACP Ahmed Waduwa Wafuba and his deputy SSP Martin Abilu told The New Vision that No. 22769 Robert Bikorwomuhangi, 34, of Rubaba, Nyakishenyi, joined the Police Force in 1988. He developed mental disorders in 1997, was treated in Butabika and has since been at his home in Rubaba.
They said Number 21371 PC John Biryomumeisho, 32, from Rukiga, Kashumuruzi, was equally mentally sick and went on a long leave. He was not deployed after his leave due to is mental status.
The Police said Deus Byamukama, 33, from Rubabo, Nyakishenyi, deserted the force in 1999.
Abilu said the fourth victim, Charles Lwanga, had never served in the Police force.

"Victims Denied Mass"

by James Mujuni and Innocent Nahabwe ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 21, 2000)

THE Roman Catholic Archbishop, Paul Bakyenga of Western Uganda Province, has directed that Holy Mass should not be celebrated for victims who perished in the Kanungu fire.
"No mass will be celebrated in the affected families and churches until further communication," a three-line statement signed by Fr. Sebastian Tumusiime, the Archbishop's personal secretary, said. It was copied to all the archdiocese priests.
Bakyenga also endorsed a March 18 statement by Bishop Robert Gay of Kabale to all priests in the diocese that routine prayers may be said for the departed.
Rukungiri falls under Kabale Catholic Diocese.
"The normal burial should take place and where possible, a priest or a catechist should attend prayers for the departed and for his family and friends," Gay said.

'Catholic Church Excommunicated Kibwetere'

by Patrick Mugumya ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 21, 2000)

Bishop Emeritus John Baptist Kakubi has said he excommunicated Joseph Kibwetere from the Roman Catholic Church because he claimed he was talking to God..
Kibwetere, the self-styled prophet and founder of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God is believed to have died with over 500 members in an inferno in Kanungu.
Kakubi, the former Bishop of Mbarara Diocese told The New Vision yesterday that Kibwetere's teaching was unacceptable to Catholics. "Kibwetere claimed that he could talk to God which was unacceptable in the Roman Catholic Church.
"Even I, a Bishop, cannot speak to God. As Catholics, we believe that someone cannot talk to God," he said in an interview at his home in Ibanda.
Kakubi said he never suspended the two priests, Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, and Joseph Kasapuraru who were Kibwetere's colleagues in the cult. He said he only suspended them for being disobedient to him when he was Bishop.
"I did not excommunicate the two priests but only suspended them because they were disobedient and refused to recognise me as the Bishop of their diocese," he said in Runyankole.
"I was grossly disappointed to hear that Dominic Kataribabo, a man with a Doctorate in Theology, had decided to follow Kibwetere's teachings," he said.

"AIDS, poverty, Uganda's Roman Catholic church blamed for rise in cults"

(Associated Press - "The Miami Herald", March 21, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda -- (AP) -- After several hundred members of a religious sect committed suicide in southwestern Uganda, psychiatrists and theologians blamed poverty, the AIDS epidemic and the country's Roman Catholic church for the rise of doomsday cults.
On Friday, hundreds of cult members burned to death inside a chapel on the sect's prosperous farm near Kanungu, 220 miles southwest of Kampala. Authorities are treating the deaths as a mass suicide, one of the largest in recent history.
Gerard Banura, a theologian at Makerere University, said church officials ostracized the leaders of the 10-year-old Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God -- all former Catholics -- when they disagreed with certain sections of the Mass.
``Somehow the official (Catholic) church made a mistake by isolating these people,'' Banura said.
The Rev. Joseph Nkeero, a church spokesman, said today the cult leaders were former priests who had been excommunicated from the church. ``These people erred and broke the discipline of the church,'' Nkeero said. ``Once they were out, they were out and they alienated themselves.''
On Monday, a bulldozer began pushing the charred remains of several hundred members of the religious sect into a trench alongside the chapel. Burial was completed today, the grave unadorned with a cross and flowers.
Police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said today that five additional investigators were being sent to Kanungu to ``wrap up inquiries.'' Ten detectives were already there, Mugenyi said.
He also said authorities were seeking sect members who had not been killed in the fire.
``We have spoken to some people who left the sect one or two years ago, and we are using them to get important information. But we are treating them as witnesses, not suspects,'' he said.
Interior Minister Edward Rugumayo said Monday that police had counted 330 dead, including 78 children. Earlier reports had put the death toll as high as 600 and as low as 235. Rugumayo said the group kept meticulous records in a small office in the compound and had recorded the names of nearly 1,000 members.
But police at the scene said they were unable to separate many of the bodies, which were fused together by the intense heat from the fire.
The tragedy occurred as Uganda celebrates more than a decade of peace and growing prosperity -- at least in urban areas -- after years of anarchy and civil war.
Dr. Florence Baingana, head of the mental health division at the Ministry of Health, believes people who lived in the shadow of the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin are naturally vulnerable.
``Our history has made us more vulnerable because life was very hard,'' she said. ``People have these gaps in their lives -- spiritual gaps -- and they look for different ways of filling them, like joining cults.''
Several religious cults that grew out of Amin's brutal 1971-79 rule later turned into guerrilla movements, one headed by a woman named Alice Auma Lakwena.
The Kanungu cult was also headed by a woman, a 40-year-old former prostitute named Clendonia Mwerinde who claimed the Virgin Mary had appeared to her in a vision and told her and close colleagues not to follow mainstream Catholic religious ceremonies.
Police first claimed that Mwerinde and other cult leaders died in the church fire. But Rugumayo said only two bodies had been identified -- one of the farm manager and the other described as that of a priest.
Banura said three of the male leaders were suspended from the church in the early 1990s because they opposed receiving communion while standing, preferring instead to be on their knees.
Roman Catholicism, established in Uganda in the late 19th century, was the country's first Christian denomination.
The Rev. Grace Kaiso, secretary-general of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, said the combination of widespread AIDS, rapid urbanization, poverty and the growing popularity of nontraditional Christian churches served as a backdrop to the tragedy at Kanungu.
``People are leaving their rural areas and losing their local network, which takes care of them,'' he said. ``AIDS has meant people have fewer opportunities of support as relatives and friends die. The fact that so many people have died has also given rise to the belief that the end of the world is near. They see all these bad things and think, `Why invest in the future?' ``

Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Mass Suicide in Uganda

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