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"Uganda hunts more graves as 153 cult corpses found"

by Paul Busharizi (Reuters, March 24, 2000)

KAMPALA, March 25 (Reuters) - Ugandan police will intensify their search for more mass graves in the southwest on Saturday after finding the corpses of 153 members of a doomsday cult who had been strangled or hacked to death.
The latest gruesome find of recently murdered cult members, mainly children and women, was made in Buhunga, about 60 km (40 miles) from the Kanungu church where some 500 members of the same cult died when their church was set ablaze a week ago, police said.
Police had earlier treated the Kanungu fire as a case of mass suicide, although they always maintained the dozens of children killed in the fire had been murdered.
Now they say it looks as though the cult's leaders murdered all their followers and were probably on the run.
``It was a planned move to murder people, and we suspect these people must be on the run,'' police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi told Reuters on Friday.
``We are calling the international community to assist us in finding these people. We suspect they may not be in this country.''
In the latest discovery, the bodies were found in three graves beneath a building used by the cult. Police said they were investigating three more sites in southwest Uganda as speculation mounted they could find many more bodies.
``It would appear wherever they had a church they had a killing,'' local member of parliament Jim Muhwenzi told Reuters.
Fifty-nine of the latest corpses, who police said had been killed around a month ago or less, were of children, while many more were of women.
Mugenyi said some were strangled. ``Other had wounds around their bellies and other indications that they were cut with machetes.''
Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo said he was shocked by the latest find. ``It is real tragedy,'' he said. ``It's a disaster. The whole thing is diabolical.''
Members of the cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, had been required to sell their possessions and hand the proceeds over to the church, whose leaders had predicted the world was about to end.
But when an earlier forecast the world would end on December 31, 1999, failed to materialise, the church leaders had come under increasing pressure to return the money -- a possible motive for the killings.
A young member of the church told local papers this week he had seen cult leader Joseph Kibwetere and his assistant Gredonia Mwerinda leave the church at Kanungu just before the fire was set.
Kibwetere, 68, was a failed politician and self-styled prophet who claimed to have heard a conversation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus in 1987 predicting the world would be destroyed for not obeying the Ten Commandments.

"153 more bodies found in Uganda cult compound"

(Agence France Presse, March 24, 2000)

Ugandan security forces have unearthed 153 bodies in the compound of a branch of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult, the local member of parliament Jim Muhwezi said Friday.
"The number is now 153," Muhwezi told AFP, giving a radically higher toll than the 40 previously announced.
Muhwezi, the former head of Uganda's Internal Security Organisation, said he was in constant touch with security forces working at the compound in Rujumbura County, Rukingere District, southwestern Uganda.
The bodies were unearthed in a branch of the sect some 45 kilometres (30 miles) from its headquarters in Kanungu, where at least 330 followers died in a fire a week ago.
Police said Friday they were treating most of the Kanungu deaths as murder, and no longer as suicide.
Earlier Friday, Muhwezi told AFP that 40, then 65 bodies had been found in the branch of the cult.
"They have discovered more bodies in Rujumbura Country, Rukingere District," in western Uganda, Jim Muhwezi told AFP.
"Security officials in the area have told me today that they found one grave in which they discovered 20 bodies, mainly women and children," said Muhwezi.
"They then found a second bigger grave ... but they are still digging out more," he added.
"It looks as if the bodies were not buried very recently. Some of them were buried a year or so ago. And some of the bodies in the first grave they found with ropes around their necks," Muhwezi added.

"Cult mass graves found in Uganda"

(BBC, March 24, 2000)

More than 150 bodies are reported to have been exhumed from mass graves in a compound belonging to the doomsday cult involved in the deaths of hundreds of its members last week.
"Security officials in Rukingere District found one grave in which they discovered 20 bodies, mainly women and children," local MP Jim Muhwezi said.
More than 140 bodies are reported to have since been found in a second, bigger grave, where digging is continuing.
He said the bodies looked as if they had been buried about a year ago, and some were found with rope around their necks. Most had died from strangulation or cuts.
Mr Muhwezi, the former head of Uganda's Internal Security Organisation, said he was in constant touch with security forces working at the grave sites.
The bodies were discovered in Buhunga, in a compound belonging to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, approximately 50km (30 miles) from the church in Kanungu where at least 300 cult members perished in a fire last Friday.
Mass murder
Initial reports from that incident suggested the cult members had used petrol to set themselves alight in a mass suicide.
However, recent investigations have indicated that the fire was started by bomb explosions at six places in the church, which had had its doors and windows nailed shut.
Police on Tuesday dug up the badly decomposed bodies of six men in a pit latrine in a house used by the cult's leaders.
A doctor at the scene said the men, who had been slashed with machetes and burned with acid, appeared to have been murdered before the blaze.
Police said they could have been killed to ensure their silence over the plans of the cult's leaders.
Friday's discovery of the mass graves has added weight to the police's suspicions that the cult members were victims of a mass murder rather than a mass suicide.
"We are treating the [church] deaths as murder apart from the leaders, who, if they perished, committed suicide because they knew what was going to happen," Eric Naigambi told the French news agency AFP.
He said cult members may not have known what was going to happen to them as they entered the church. They believed the Virgin Mary was coming to get them, but may not have been aware of the plans to set the building alight.
Leaders vanished
The fate of the leaders remains unknown.
The body of one, Dominic Katirababwo, a former Catholic priest, was identified among the charred remains of the bodies by his telltale collar.
But the cult's chief, Joseph Kibwetere, and his principal prophetess, Credonia Mwerinde may have escaped, cult survivors have said.
A 17-year old cult member told officials he had seen the pair fleeing the church grounds clutching small bags early on Friday.
Police are also trying to establish what happened to the money raised by the cult before the fire.
Members had been instructed to sell all their belongings in the days preceding their deaths, and had paid off all their debts.

"More than 150 more bodies unearthed near Uganda sect death site"

(CNN, March 24, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- The bodies of 153 sect members were found Friday strangled and hacked to death in a mass grave in western Uganda near a church where hundreds perished in a fire, police said.
The bodies, which included 59 children, were discovered as police continues to investigate the deaths of at least 330 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, who were burned alive in a sect compound 30 kilometers (19 miles) away in remote southwestern Uganda.
Police said they were now treating all the deaths as mass murder.
"It was definitely murder," police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi told The Associated Press.
The March 17 fire in Kanungu was set at a makeshift church belonging to the movement. The estimated death toll in the blaze has ranged from 150 to 600, and the cause has been attributed to gasoline, a bomb or both. There have been conflicting reports about the willingness of some sect members to commit suicide.
Minister of State for Regional Cooperation Amama Mbabazi, who visited Kanungu on Wednesday, said two top sect leaders may not have died in the inferno as had been believed.
Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, and Joseph Kibweteere, 68, also known as the prophet, may both have left the compound before the fire.
Mbabazi said a 17-year-old cult member who had slipped away from the church before the fire said Kibweteere was not there at the time. The minister said some local residents had also reported seeing Mwerinde leave the compound.
Police initially said all the group's leaders had died, but officials said later that only two leaders' bodies had been positively identified -- the manager of the sect's farm and "a priest." A number of the group's leaders were former Roman Catholic priests, lay workers and nuns.
Uganda's ill-funded and under-trained police force has been overwhelmed by the investigation, and many questions remain about what happened in Kanungu.
Various reports put sect membership anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 in nine districts in Uganda, a country of 21 million. It was legally registered as a non-governmental organization.

"ARDC ignored Kanungu cult report, says Museveni"

("New Vision" [Kampala], March 24, 2000)

THE assistant Resident District Administrator of Rukungiri sat on a report by a Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO) who had said members of the Kanungu doomsday cult were a threat to security, President Yoweri Museveni said yesterday.
Peter G. Mwesige reports that Museveni said the Government will set up a commission of inquiry into the cult and other similar groups.
Museveni, who was addressing a press conference at the State House Nakasero, said, "There was some information about the dangerousness of this group."
He said there were two reports about the cult since 1994. When the Rukungiri RDC wrote a report critical of the cult and submitted it to the NGO board which sent investigators to check the behaviour of the group, Museveni said.
"They came back and said the group had no problem and the NGO board went ahead to register it," he added.
Museveni said, "A little more recently, a GISO wrote a report, saying these people were a threat to security." He said the report was received by the assistant Resident District Commissioner who did not pass it on. The ARDC of Rukungiri in-charge of Kanungu is the Rev. Stephen Bangumya.
"Now I am hearing stories that he may be a member of that religion. He is a Reverend," Museveni said.
Over 530 followers of Joseph Kibwetere's Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in a church fire last week.
"This group is very strange because the leaders were very educated," Museveni said. He said Kibwetere was an inspector of Catholic schools at one time, while the Rev. Fr. (Dominic) Kataribaabo had a masters degree in Theology.
"These were educated people one reason why the people were deceived," Museveni said.
He blamed the proliferation of cults on inadequate infrastructure in sectors such as health. "A lot of cases are left unattended to so these people come in and start taking advantage," Museveni said.
"There is also AIDS. Even if the medical service was reaching everywhere, there is no solution. People become hopeless so they (put) their hope in these people."
Museveni blamed unemployment in the countryside. "It's a mixture of problems. That is why my line has been that we must move rapidly to industrialise the country. By vigorously promoting investment, we shall solve these frustrations."
He added, "Transforming the countryside through education and modern employment will uproot all these problems. There's a lot to do."
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Amama Mbabazi, repeated the account of a 17-year old boy who escaped from the church.
He said cult leader Claudio Mwerinde was seen catching a bus to Kampala on Friday.
Museveni, who had earlier described the incident as "madness," said he had decided not to visit the scene because he thought people had killed themselves. "But if it's true they were killed and the leaders are alive, I may have to go there and join in the hunt," he said.
Museveni said that whereas he was not satisfied with the security procedures, he understood their problem.
"The security agencies are overstretched," Museveni said.

"Doomsday cult regroups in Rakai for feast, says RDC"

by Eddie Ssejjoba ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 24, 2000)

SECURITY has been beefed up in Rakai to counteract a feast organised by the surviving members of the Kanungu doomsday cult who are regrouping in the district.
RDC Mary Frances Owor yesterday said the leader of the cult in Rakai, Sodona Kehuki Kyinkuhaire, 62, is a relative and a close associate of one of the leaders of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, Joseph Kibwetere.
About 530 followers, including children, perished in the Kanungu church inferno recently.
She said Kyinkuhaire arrived at Mbuye Catholic Parish in Lwanda sub- county on Saturday, a day after the mass suicide in Kanungu in Rukungiri district. The Mbuye feast, scheduled to last for two days, will coincide with the commemoration of the appearance of angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce that she would be the mother of Jesus, according to invitations to the cult members.
The RDC said a team of security investigators from Kampala and the district had visited Mbuye and confirmed from a priest there that several followers had started arriving for the Friday celebrations.
The church and a separate shrine for Virgin Mary were built by the area MP, Gabriel Lukwago, who was a follower. The RDC said there was no information to suggest that Lukwago was an active cult member.
Owor said Kyinkuhaire, who is the overall leader in Uganda, took over from Speciosa Mukantabana, a Rwandan, who claimed to have had Mary's vision. She has a big group of followers.
The RDC said many followers of the Kanungu cult were expected to arrive from Mbarara, Rukungiri, Kampala, Rwanda and other places.
Security officials on Wednesday found Kyinkuhaire at the shrine but she refused to talk to them and local officials.
But she said she was related to Kibwetere. She also said she was once employed by Mrs. Janet Museveni, wife of the President, at a children's NGO in Masuuliita.
By last evening, security investigators sought facts from the remnants of the Kanungu cult leaders said to be hiding in Rakai.

"Cult 'met President'"

by Alfred Wasike ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 24, 2000)

DOOM's day cult leaders led by Joseph Kibwetere claim that they met President Yoweri Museveni in 1994 at his Rwakitura home.
The New Vision has seen a document dated January 15, 2000 in which Kibwetere also says he presented Jesus' message to Pope John Paul II during his 1993 visit to Uganda.
But President Museveni yesterday told journalists in Kampala that he had never heard of the cult until it incinerated hundreds of followers at Kanungu, Rukungiri.
The cult is called The Movement For The Restoration Of The Ten Commandments Of God.
"On 20th September 1994, we had the privilege of visiting His Excellency Yoweri K Museveni, President of Uganda, at his home in Rwakitura," the document addressed to the Rukungiri RDC said.
Kibwetere also said they visited the IGG and the Commissioner for Education in Kampala over their organisation.
In the document, Kibwetere gives a veiled warning about the end of the world, "When the year 2000 comes to an end, the present times or generation will be changed and there will follow a new generation and a New Earth."
The document was signed by four cult leaders, Kibwetere, Sr. Credonia Mwerinde, Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo and Henry Byarugaba.

"Ugandans mourn the cult members"

("Daily Nation" [Kenya], March 24, 2000)

KANUNGU, Thursday
Fresh evidence of a murder plot prior to the mass suicide of some 400 members of a Ugandan doomsday cult was uncovered on Tuesday as police unearthed six people killed several days before the tragedy.
The bodies, four of them badly mutilated, were removed from latrines in the compound of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult and a forensic doctor at the scene, Sam Birungi, said they had been there a week.
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 Dr Birungi.
"The two first bodies were on the top and they don’t bear 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 wounds of some of the six were huge, with signs that they were struck with machetes or hammers. Locals held fragrant plants to their noses to ward of the stench of the corpses.
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, but Dr Birungi said no autopsy would be carried out.
Elsewhere in the compound surrounded by banana palms and fields, police continued with the gruesome task of sifting through the charred remains of the cult members in a bid to establish a more accurate toll.
The skulls of 33O cult members, including 78 children whose deaths are being treated as murder, have so far been counted.
But since the burning was so severe, an accurate final death toll is not expected.
As the counting continued, relatives of the dead arrived to mourn.
Cristina Kampire, 34, said she lost 17 members of her family.
"They left a letter saying they were going to heaven," she said.

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

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Revised last: 25-03-2000