by Tom Walker ("Sunday Times", March 26, 2000)
The grass driveway winds past gum plants into an overgrown courtyard, where a bungalow with a rusting roof broods beneath the dark skies and lightning of the rainy season. The remnants of a bonfire smoulder in a flowerbed. Local people refuse to come anywhere near, claiming the place is haunted.
Theresa Kibwetere, the old woman who pokes open the door, is frail and stooped, a pendant of the Pope strung around her neck. She is the wife of Joseph Kibwetere, Uganda's most wanted man and the leader of a millennial cult that has taken the lives of as many as 700 followers.
Theresa, a devout Roman Catholic, is coming to terms with the fact that her estranged and demented husband could be a mass murderer.
The smoking pyre outside indicates that the family believes he is dead, a victim of the explosion and inferno at the cult's church in Kanungu a week ago.
The Ugandan authorities fear otherwise, and have launched a nationwide hunt for Kibwetere. Their search intensified after a further 153 mutilated bodies, many of them women and children, were found on Friday in three graves at one of the cult's smaller regional transit camps.
"I pray, but I cannot ask for him to be forgiven," said Rugambwe, the Kibweteres' second son. "He wrecked our lives."
His mother looked up at her wedding photograph and shook her head. "He was so humble once," she said. The near-biblical proportion of the carnage wreaked by the man she once loved was beyond her comprehension.
The Kibweteres married in Mbarara, the regional capital, in 1960. Kibwetere, then 28, was the assistant supervisor of the area's Catholic schools; Theresa helped Canadian nuns in teaching projects.
In 1971 he joined the government's land commission, overseeing building and agricultural projects in the region. Two years later he became its head. He moved into politics, campaigning for the opposition Democratic party. The family moved to Rwashamaire and was among the richest in the neighbourhood, with three other properties, hundreds of cattle and a milling business.
The Kibweteres had been relatively untroubled by the chaos of Idi Amin's rule, but they did not fare so well under Milton Obote, his successor. The new president cracked down on tribes in the south.
Kibwetere, already embittered by his party's defeat in 1980 elections, lost his job and many of his cattle were killed or stolen. Always a deeply religious man, his fervour intensified, and in 1984 he told startled colleagues that the Virgin Mary had appeared before him.
Five years later, in financial turmoil but religious ecstasy, Kibwetere became convinced he was on the right path when a former prostitute called Credonia Mwerinde claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in a cave in the Nyakishenyi mountains near his home.
"The next thing we knew she was in our house and they had decided to start their cult here," recalled Rugambwe. "Soon she was beating us all. My father was in awe of her and would do anything she said."
Kibwetere initially chose 12 disciples to help him build hisso-called Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. They included his wife Theresa, Mwerinde and her two sisters. Soon there were more than 200 followers in the house.
Men and women were separated and a code of silence was introduced. Kibwetere and Mwerinde decided the world would end at the turn of the century, and their creed was given weight by the arrival of Dominic Kataribabo, a priest from Kampala with a PhD from America, and a former dean at Makere University.
The increasingly volatile Mwerinde was receiving "messages" from the Virgin Mary almost constantly. She claimed they were coming through a hidden telephone system that found a mouthpiece in objects such as cups and plates.
She burnt all Theresa's clothes and once chased her with a machete. She persuaded Kibwetere to remove his children from school and to sell his three other properties, car and milling machines to feed the swelling ranks of disciples, who handed all their personal belongings to her. Rugambwe, desperate to keep his family together, had the first of several fist fights with his father, ending up in hospital.
One of his sisters, Edith, said Mwerinde claimed one day the Virgin Mary had told her all children under five should be killed, and a sacrifice was needed immediately. Mwerinde said she would "rip out the eyes of the child and roast it alive".
It was a terrible forewarning of what was to come. After the police were called to quell another family fight in 1992, village elders told Kibwetere he should leave and take his cult with him.
Mwerinde wanted to buy the land around the cave where she had seen her apparition of the Virgin Mary, but her father, Paul Kasaku, offered his farm in the isolated hilltop settlement of Kanungu, west of Rwashamaire.
When her father died in 1996, Mwerinde exhumed his body and placed it beside that of her mother. She then built the cult's new church on top of the family grave.
Despite opposition from the Catholic church, the sect's fame spread. Thousands were attracted by Kibwetere's firebrand preaching and Mwerinde's mysticism. The sect bought several remote properties, including a small farm at Rutoma, where the mass graves were unearthed on Friday. The cult is believed to have had between 1,000 and 5,000 followers in nine districts of Uganda. Government officials admitted yesterday the death toll could rise substantially as other properties are searched.
Richard Tumobwinje, now 24, who joined the cult with his mother and 10 siblings in 1995, is one of the few survivors. "There were people dying from malnutrition," he said.
"We woke at 3am and prayed for three hours, and then were forced to work in the fields. We were told angels were protecting us but all this stuff about talking to Jesus and Mary never happened."
In early 1998 Mwerinde, Kibwetere and Kataribabo went on a trip, but most followers were too ill to escape. When Mwerinde returned, Tumobwinje said, she "went crazy because we'd done no work".
"She started using language you wouldn't expect in heaven, and began throwing stones at us. I'd had enough."
The previous year, however, the cult had been officially given permission to teach its version of the commandments. John Ntegyereize, the local Anglican bishop, was mystified. Last September, he had tried to inject some sense into life at Kanungu, just half a mile from his own church.
"They'd begun to go heavily on this millennial business," he said. "I told them that on January 1 the sun would rise in the east and set in the west, just as it always had done."
As the millennium came and went, the cult began to fracture dangerously. Ntegyereize believes many in Kanungu were murdered, and suspects the sect used a burly former soldier, known as "Kaganga" to carry out a slaughter that had become necessary to stamp out post- millennial disillusionment.
Some were bludgeoned to death; others had their stomachs ripped open. Sulphuric acid was poured over corpses.
Mwerinde ordered possessions to be sold off. Cattle were snapped up by nearby villagers for a quarter of their normal price. Spurred on by the floods in Mozambique, Kibwetere told his flock to prepare for the end.
While the standard maize and porridge diet of the majority ran out, the leaders feasted on a "last supper" of avocados, wine, chicken, groundnuts and pineapple. They then smashed Catholic icons and buried them to ward off evil spirits.
"Kaganga" or Kataribabo is thought to have sparked the final inferno. Kibwetere or Mwerinde may have nailed the church door shut behind them.
The last time any cult member was spotted in Kanungu was the previous evening, when Kaganga drove the cult's Toyota Corona to the police station with the title deeds to the land. Evidently distressed, he explained in mutters and sign language that trouble was brewing. The police did nothing, and the vehicle is still missing.
A 17-year-old youth, believed to be the last cult member to escape, has sworn that Kibwetere was not in Kanungu, and that he saw Mwerinde running through her late father's pastures as an explosion and screams pierced the air.
Richard Tumobwinje's 10 siblings and his mother are dead; his blind father, Francis, became delirious with rage when he heard the news and had to be strapped to his chair. His neighbour, John Tibendesane, lost nine children.
At least 500 people are estimated to have perished in the Kanungu fire. In a nearby pit latrine beneath Kimbwetere's bathroom, the putrefying corpses of six men in their thirties were dragged out. They had apparently died at least a month ago, when cult members began to demand their money back.
Rugambwe Kibwetere is sure a body he saw at Kanungu was his father's. "I looked at it for 10 minutes. The nose and mouth had gone, but the facial bones were his." The police, however, have insisted the body is Dominic Kataribabo's.
"I'm afraid they're on the run," said Ntegyereize. "They wanted to overturn the Ten Commandments, and they have. Thou shalt not kill became kill as much as you want."
Theresa Kibwetere, meanwhile, is keeping her door locked. "Who will protect us from the families?" she cried. "Will anyone realise we are innocent? Pray for us, please."
(Associated Press, March 26, 2000)
RUGAZI, Uganda (AP) -- The investigation into the suspicious deaths of at least 490 members of a Christian doomsday sect was tangled in logistical confusion Sunday as a leading legislator speculated that sect leaders were behind the deaths.
Local police guarded a half-open grave at the sect's remote compound in southwestern Uganda, awaiting the arrival of a pathologist from the capital of Kampala and investigators from a nearby town to continue exhuming the burial pit.
But Uganda's chief pathologist never left the capital, police said.
``Logistics were a problem,'' police spokesman Mugenyi Assuman said by telephone from Kampala.
Meanwhile, a team of investigators standing by for the pathologist in Rukungiri, 19 miles from the compound, were never informed of the delay.
Senior Ugandan officials have quoted a 17-year-old sect member as saying the sect's two top leaders -- Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, and Joseph Kibweteere, 68 -- may have fled the area March 17, when a fire in a sect church killed 330 members. Those reports are unconfirmed.
The deaths in the village of Kanungu were initially viewed as a mass suicide. However, officials, police and villagers have speculated that the two leaders fled as the sect grew increasingly divided over the fact that the world did not end Dec. 31 as was predicted and wanted back their belongings, which they had surrendered on joining the sect.
Jim Muhezi, a leading member of parliament and a onetime head of Uganda's internal security agency, theorized Saturday that sect leaders cracked down viciously on the defiant, poisoning some, and urging the mass suicide to curb further defections.
Muhezi had also criticized the investigation into the deaths of hundreds of members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments.
Asked by reporters why 153 bodies in a sect compound in nearby Buhunga were exhumed and hastily reburied Friday without being identified, Muhezi replied: ``You're guess is as good as mine. It's a poor investigative job.''
Authorities in this East African nation say their probe has been hampered by lack of equipment, vehicles and staff.
The initial belief that the deaths at Kanungu were mass suicide, a senseless tragedy, soon turned sinister when the crumpled bodies of what they said were six murdered men were discovered crammed in one of the compound's latrines. Within days, 153 bodies were found in the dirt floors of a sect compound in Buhunga, some 13 miles away.
The sect had up to 1,000 members, and authorities here fear most may have become victims. Government officials are treating movement leader Kibwetere as a fugitive and the all the deaths as murder.
While they waited for experts to arrive Sunday, local authorities in Rugazi, 36 miles from Buhunga, surveyed a small sugar cane field adjoining the compound, mapping the tentative boundaries of an excavation for more bodies. At the corner of the field was the half-open grave, only an arm and hip jutting from the brown earth.
Police discovered the grave Friday, when they came to inspect the compound that until recently belonged to Dominic Kataribabo, who became a leader in the sect soon after a local bishop stripped him of his duties as Roman Catholic priest in the early 1990s.
To sect followers who flocked to the three-building compound and its stunning view of nearby Lake Edward, Kataribabo preached the movement's apocalyptic message and criticized Roman Catholic officials for failing to live up to their public teachings.
(BBC, March 26, 2000)
Ugandan police have discovered what could be another mass grave linked to the religious cult whose church was burnt down with huge loss of life last week. Police stopped digging when they uncovered the arm of a corpse behind the house of prominent cult leader Father Dominic Kataribabo, an excommunicated Catholic priest thought to have died in the petrol-fuelled fire.
They are waiting for a medical and investigative team to arrive at the house in Rugazi, south-west Uganda, before going any further. The police fanned out across the country over the weekend to search six compounds belonging to the sect after finding 153 mutilated and strangled bodies buried in a site linked to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments sect.
"We think wherever there was a sect branch, there could be more graves," said Jim Muhwezi, a local politician.
Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo told the BBC that the naked corpse had been murdered recently.
Sulphuric acid The March 17 church fire, initially thought to be a suicide pact, is now considered to have been murder for financial gain. More than 400 people died.
Investigators found that bomb explosions at six places in the church started the fire, and the doors and windows had been nailed shut. Police said that five days before the fire, Father Kataribabo had bought a large quantity of concentrated sulphuric acid.
The chemical had been used on six bodies found in a pit latrine in a house used by sect leaders.
Police believe the cult's chief, Joseph Kibwetere, and his principal prophetess, Credonia Mwerinde, may have escaped.
They are also trying to establish what happened to the money raised by the cult.
Members had been instructed to sell all their belongings in the days before their deaths, and had paid off all their debts.
Various reports put sect membership of the sect anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000.
by Henri E. Cauvin ("The New York Times", March 26, 2000)
RUTOMA, Uganda, March 25 -- At least some of the 153 people who were killed at a secluded cult compound in southwestern Uganda died several weeks before hundreds of followers of the doomsday cult died in a raging inferno in their church eight days ago, the police said today.
The compound, set at the end of a narrow dirt path, was set on fire just hours before the church inferno on March 17 in which at least 330 people died. The fire at the compound gutted the five small dwellings on the site and scorched much of the surrounding earth in an eerie prelude to the catastrophe that then unfolded in the village of Kanungu, where the cult, known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, made its home.
The fire here, and the discovery of the bodies of people who were apparently killed weeks or even months ago, have bolstered the growing sense among investigators that what happened in the Kanungu church was, on some level, a carefully orchestrated act by the cult's leader, Joseph Kibwetere, and some of his lieutenants.
"Unless we prove that they are dead, we want them to answer charges of murder," Assuman Mugenyi, the chief spokesman for the National Police Service, said today in a telephone interview from Kampala, the capital.
Increasingly overwhelmed by their grisly discoveries, police officials said today that international help for the underequipped Ugandan police force would be welcome.
Hoping to find clues about what happened at Kanungu, investigators have been combing other sites where the cult operated.
When diggers began excavating the ditches on Friday, the toll was staggering: 153 bodies, Mr. Mugenyi said. Of the dead, 59 were children and everyone, it appeared, had been killed, he said. Some of them had been strangled and others had been slashed, he said.
Unlike the massacre at Kanungu, in which everyone died at once, the killings here appear to have occurred at the very least over a period of weeks, Mr. Mugenyi said.
The site here, set at the end of a narrow dirt path, was used by the cult for inducting new members and introducing them to its ways, a senior police investigator said today.
"It was a place for indoctrination," Terense Kinyera, the regional head of criminal investigations for the Ugandan police, said after meeting with other investigators here.
The bodies found here were examined by medical investigators and then buried en masse in a grave dug on the edge of one the buildings.
With manpower limited and rough terrain making travel to the scenes difficult, investigators have been slowed in their search for evidence.
More than a week after the Kanungu fire, investigators were only beginning today to search another of the cult's sites, in the neighboring village of Bushenyi. And investigators will never have the type of forensic evidence that could have been gleaned from examination in a laboratory. But removing the bodies would have been an enormous logistical challenge, even for a police force with far more manpower and resources.
"This is a big problem for us because our police force is not fully equipped," Mr. Mugenyi said. "If we could get some international assistance, we would welcome it. We need some experts, especially on homicide, to help reinforce our team." Between 20 and 30 investigators are assigned to the case, he said, and "even those resources are not enough for them to do thorough work."
(IRIN, March 25, 2000)
KANUNGU, Uganda, 24 March (IRIN) - The mass suicide on 17 March of more than 300 cult members in Kanungu, southwestern Uganda, has forced the Ugandan government to look closely at the issue of religious freedom in relation to the proliferation of cults and sects. The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was banned with immediate effect. On 21 March, parliament called for the government to launch an investigation into religious organisations and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to stop similar tragedies occurring.
During the debate, some MP's complained that the incident was the result of too much tolerance and religious freedom. There were also calls for all religious organisations to be investigated. Joseph Kibwetere's Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments had been registered as an NGO since 1997 and had reportedly submitted an annual report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in March, just prior to the deaths. In the report, the organisation said its mission would be coming to an end in the year 2000, and that next year would be "year number 1, new generation". Local officials said the cult had invited government representatives to Kanungu for a party on Saturday 18 March. Police believe this may have been a way of covering for the increased numbers of people at the commune and ritual preparations. Before their deaths, members paid outstanding graduated taxes and other debts.
Members deposited a cult constitution and title deeds to the land at the local police station the week of the mass suicide. Property, including cattle and farm produce, was sold off cheaply the week before the suicide, and a big party held at the commune the evening before. Other signals that the authorities failed to pick up was a statement self-styled prophet Kibwetere sent to a vernacular local paper, reassuring his followers that Jesus Christ had appeared to him with new prophecies of Armageddon. The statement was not published.
Up to 500 people may have been incinerated in a fierce fire most likely sparked by an explosion of petrol and sulphuric acid Charismatic former prostitute and "priestess" Credonia Mwerinde reportedly attracted many members with her claims that the Virgin Mary communicated directly with her. In the early 1990s, she claimed she had a video tape showing the Virgin Mary talking to her. Security personnel have given conflicting accounts about "monitoring" the movement. Four policemen were among the dead, one of whom was reportedly planted in the commune as an informer.
Regional Police Commander Stephen Okwaringa told journalists at the site that Kibwetere's cult "was smarter than our officers" and converted or transferred informers to other branches. There was an attempt to close down the commune primary school in November 1998 by Rukungiri District Administration, for "engaging in acts that violated the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the Local Government Act and the Public Health regulations", according to a letter of closure.
Children were reported to be poorly fed on porridge, sleeping without blankets, malnourished, and engaged in child labour. Talking was forbidden among the rank-and-file and members were expected to indicate basic needs through sign language. Sex was also forbidden. Men and women lived in separate quarters. No children were conceived in the commune - there was a report of one woman beaten until she miscarried - and children were brought in with new members.
Police were still struggling to excavate the pit five days after the mass suicide in the church Police are investigating bodies found in cemented-over latrines, under a house used by the leaders. The discovery of these bodies - some of which show signs of violent death - increasingly point to mass murder. There are believed to be no survivors from some 600 cult members known to have gathered at Kanungu commune during the week of the deaths. A government pathologist has identified 330 skulls, of which 78 are children, but believes up to 500 may have been incinerated in a fierce fire most likely sparked by an explosion of petrol and sulphuric acid.
Lack of specialised equipment and poor government support meant that police were still struggling to excavate the pit five days after the mass suicide in the church. President Yoweri Museveni came under some public criticism for a belated reaction to the deaths - he expressed "shock" on Sunday evening but failed to mobilise resources quickly.
Although the mass suicide attracted considerable international media coverage, Dr Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (Santa Barbara, California) warned in an initial report about interpreting events in a way that serves to identify with the Western myth of cult suicide.
The Kanungu deaths took place in a volatile region where the Uganda, Congo and Rwanda borders converge He said more research should be done to look at religion-related violence under new "and often unstable" African governments. The Kanungu deaths took place in a volatile region where the Uganda, Congo and Rwanda borders converge and, says Dr Melton, near "the site of the massive genocide to the south" - a reference to Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Uganda has experienced a proliferation of cults and sects post-Idi Amin, whose regime is credited with some half a million deaths. "The violence in the immediate vicinity of this occurrence is of a magnitude that most Westerners have a difficulty comprehending," he stated. Uganda has produced some of the most extreme and violent of Christian cults, including Alice Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement and its successor, the Lord's Resistance Army.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for its abuse and kidnapping of children, is pursuing a guerrilla war in northern Uganda with the stated intention of running the country on the basis of the Ten Commandments.
Alice Lakwena, a former prostitute turned priestess, convinced thousands of young men that they were immune from bullets if they smeared her magic potions over their bodies - leading them to wholesale slaughter by well-armed government troops. There have also been recent raids by Ugandan police on sects accused of abuse and apocalyptic preaching, like the World Message Last Warning Church in Luweero, and the camp of the "Prophetess" Nabaasa in Ntusi, Sembabule district.
The Movement of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God included the well-educated, excommunicated priest, Dominic Kataribabo, who had a doctorate degree in theology. According to an analysis by Charles Onyango-Obbo, editor of 'The Monitor', the "defining event" for the formation of the cult was the split of Ankole Diocese into three in the late 1960s. The subsequent choice of leadership in the Catholic church sparked resentment, with accusations that tribal considerations were taking precedent.
US and British-educated priests - like Dominic Kataribabo - were frustrated in their ambitions and were transferred to the less prestigious, rural posts.
Among the dispossessed elite was Joseph Kibwetere, described as "a devout Catholic and wealthy dairy and poultry farmer", who turned to politics in the shape of the Catholic-based Democratic Party (DP). When Milton Obote's UPC destroyed the DP, Kibwetere lost his wealth and social standing and was forced to live a humiliating existence in Kabale.
There is an attraction to charismatic cults for the poor, who live hard lives on the periphery of society Museveni's rise to power allowed this dispossessed elite to realign and reestablish themselves. They appealed to a predominantly poor, peasant - and female - following who were disillusioned with the established church leadership, increasingly accused of corruption, immorality and opportunism.
According to The Institute for the Study of American Religion - which researches international cults and sects - more than 5,000 African Indigenous Church (AIC) groups have arisen over the last hundred years and "the largest single block of them are composed of former Roman Catholics".
The Roman Catholic Church is said to be the largest religious organisation on the African continent. Internationally, there have been hundreds of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary over the last century "within and on the fringe of the Roman Catholic Church", says the Institute. Many of these apparitions in Africa - which also have a strong apocalyptic element associated with them - never reach the press, but inspire huge gatherings and pilgrimages.
The advent of the new millennium had a strong impact on sects and members of mainstream religions. For example, in Kakamega, western Kenya, hundreds of women dressed in white on the eve of the millennium and waited throughout the night in Pentecostal and Quaker churches for Jesus to "appear" or for the end of the world. Local residents in Kanungu, Uganda, said there was a similar phenomenon in their district even among mainstream churches.
Since independence, the local "adoption" of imported Christian religions has not been well-received by the established hierarchy, many of whom are closely involved with existing political structures. There is an attraction to charismatic cults for the poor, who live hard lives on the periphery of society.
The Catholic Church refused to hold mass for the people who died in Kanungu - even though suicide had not been proved and 78 innocent children were among the dead New sects are seen by the mainstream churches as "insubordinate" and competing for resources. There was in Uganda, for example, some public criticism of the Catholic Church when it refused to hold mass for the people who died in Kanungu - even though suicide had not been proved and 78 innocent children were among the dead. Other concerns regarding the proliferation of religious movements in Uganda focus on the reluctance of Museveni to allow a multi-party political system.
Religious movements and cults have to some extent become vehicles for frustrated ambitions, like those of Joseph Kibwetere. The government will, however, be under as much pressure to review freedom of worship and more closely regulate religious sects and non-governmental organisations as to open up. Many politicians believe it is the relative freedoms of a democratising country that has precipitated the sudden growth of such movements.
by Julius Mucunguzi and Arinaitwe Rugyendo (The Monitor [Kampala], March 25, 2000)
Kampala - Tragic drama continued to unfold in Rukungiri yesterday when police exhumed 163 bodies from the compound of a branch of the Kanungu doomsday cult. The bodies were exhumed by police and inmates from Rukungiri Prison from three separate graves at Buhunga village, 10 km on Rukungiri- Kitagata road.
Sources from Buhunga told The Monitor that the exhumed bodies included those of 59 children and 94 adults. Also Friday, police announced that they were now treating the March 17 deaths of at least 530 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God Sect in Kanungu, Rukungiri, as murder not suicide.
The bodies were later re-buried in two mass graves at the same place. Some of bodies had cuts and smashed heads, according to the post-mortem examination carried out by Dr. Sebudi.
Dr. Sebudi told The Monitor in Mbarara that some of the bodies had ropes tied around their necks and that they could have been buried two weeks ago. Earlier the French news agency, AFP quoting area MP, Jim Muhwezi reported that Ugandan security officials had exhumed at least 40 bodies from two graves in the compound of the doomsday cult.
"They have discovered more bodies in Rujumbura County, Rukungiri 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, the former head of Uganda's Internal Security Organisation.
"They then found a second bigger grave in which they have so far found twenty bodies, 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.
(BBC, March 25, 2000)
Police in Uganda are searching for sites linked to the religious cult whose headquarters was burnt down with huge loss of life last week.
What was initially thought to be a mass suicide pact is now considered to have been murder for financial gain, particularly after the discovery on Friday of more than 150 bodies at one of the sect's compounds.
"We now fear we may find many more bodies," Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo said.
"We are now hunting for all the branches. We think there are about five or six of them. But we haven't got any other information to date," he told French news agency AFP.
The search is also for leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments sect.
"It was a planned move to murder people, and we suspect these people must be on the run," police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said.
He suggested they have already left the country.
Various reports put sect membership of the sect anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000.
More than 400 were killed in the church fire in Kanungu last week, and another 153 bodies were exhumed from three graves at a house used by the cult in Buhunga on Friday.
On Saturday, the authorities reburied the bodies in two mass graves at the back of the house where they were found.
Many had been strangled or hacked to death, probably at least a month ago.
A local MP, Jim Muhwzi, said they may have been killed elsewhere and transported to the remote hilltop village. The nearby buildings were set alight the same day as the church fire.
Suicide ruled out
Initial reports suggested that the cult members who died in the fire had used petrol to set themselves alight in a mass suicide.
However, investigators later found that bomb explosions at six places in the church started the fire.
Police said that the 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.
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.
A 17-year old cult member told officials he had seen the pair fleeing the church grounds clutching small bags before the fire.
Police are also trying to establish what happened to the money raised by the cult.
Members had been instructed to sell all their belongings in the days before their deaths, and had paid off all their debts.
by Paul Busharizi (Reuters, March 25, 2000)
KAMPALA, March 25 (Reuters) - Ugandan police intensified 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 apparently been poisoned, strangled or hacked to death.
The latest gruesome find of recently murdered cult members, mainly children and women, was made on Friday 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 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, possibly to steal their money.
``It was a planned move to murder people, and we suspect these people must be on the run,'' police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi told Reuters.
Photographs of cult leaders would be circulated to newspapers and to Interpol.
``We are calling on the international community to assist us in finding these people,'' he said. ``We suspect they may not be in this country.''
BODIES FOUND IN THREE GRAVES
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.
``After what they found at Buhunga, they are trying to find out if there is a mass grave at the other places,'' Mugenyi told Reuters on Saturday.
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 showed signs of being strangled. ``Others had wounds around their bellies and other indications that they were cut with machetes,'' he said late on Friday.
``We suspect these people could have been poisoned first and later on finished off,'' he added on Saturday.
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.
(BBC, March 25, 2000)
Police in Uganda say scores of bodies found in mass graves at the site of last week's cult fire had been strangled or hacked to death. Some 153 bodies, 59 of them children, have been exhumed from three graves at a house used by the cult in Buhunga, in Rukingere district, approximately 50km (30 miles) from the church in Kanungu where more than 400 cult members perished in a fire last Friday.
Police spokesman Assuman Mujenyi told the AFP news agency that some of the bodies found on Friday "had been suffocated using their clothes and others had been cut with sharp objects. They had been there about one or one and a half months".
Local MP Jim Muhwezi had said earlier that he had been told by the security forces that the bodies at Buhunga, found under the floor of the house, did not look as if they had been buried 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," he added.
Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo said he was shocked by the latest find. "It is a real tragedy," he said. "It's a disaster. The whole thing is diabolical."
Police will on Saturday intensify their search for more mass graves in south-west Uganda, as suspicions grow that leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God murdered their followers in last Friday's fire.
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 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.
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.
by Anne Mugisa and W. Bakandema ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 25, 2000)
SECURITY officials yesterday discovered 153 bodies in another mass grave belonging to the Kanungu cult.
The bodies were concealed under the floor of a house, 60km from the scene of last Friday's inferno in which 600 people are believed to have died.
The new site is at Rutooma, Buhunga, 10km from Rukungiri town on the Kitagata road.
Fifty-nine bodies of children and 94 adults, most of them women, were exhumed from three mass graves dug inside an isolated six-bedroom house.
A post-mortem examination carried out by Dr. Ssebudde, indicated that some of the bodies had stab wounds, some had smashed skulls while others had signs of strangulation.
The decomposing bodies had ropes around their necks and according to Ssebudde, had been buried not more than two weeks ago.
They were exhumed by prisoners from Rukungiri prison and reburied in two mass graves after the post-mortem.
The security officials said the place where the mass graves were found was, until about a week to the inferno, a transit camp for the cult.
The Buhunga graves were discovered after they caved in following a downpour.. The roof of the house had been removed by the new owner who bought it from cult members a week ago.
The cult members had sold the house to a Kampala businessman identified as Daliano Tibehurira. The former owners were identified only as Natu son of Philip Busharizi.
The sources said the transit camp had handled believers from as far as Iganga, Kampala and Bundibugyo. The sources said there was evidence that at least 280 people who died last Friday came from these places.
Villagers in Buhunga said over 500 people used to congregate monthly at the house and stay there for about two weeks. When they left, they would leave about 20 of their colleagues behind.
The villagers also said sometimes the cult members announced the death of their colleagues but they always buried the bodies at night, discouraging locals from attending the funerals. About eight graves were also found in the banana plantation.
The sources also said security learnt that two of the cult priests bought 29, 20-litre jerry cans of petrol from Agip Petrol Station on Ben Kiwanuka Street, Kampala, three days before the Kanungu inferno.
The priests hired a pick-up from Mbarara lorry stage opposite a place called Kikuubo, which transported the fuel.
Sources said they also loaded new bales of blankets, posho and other household items kept in a house in Ggaba.
The driver told security that the priests off-loaded the fuel themselves in the backyard at Kanungu, and later called the rest of the congregation to offload the blankets and posho.
He said between Mbarara and Rukungiri, policemen at a roadblock stopped the vehicle demanding to know where the priests were taking the fuel.
He said the priests produced IDs issued by Kibwetere and gave the policemen sh70,000 before they were let through.
by Eddie Ssejjoba, Enock Kakande and Gawaya Tegule ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 25, 2000)
THE Police have camped at Mbuye parish in Rakai where believers suspected to be part of the Kanungu group have gathered to celebrate.
The Catholic Church leaders at Mbuye requested security officials to provide tight security to prevent any eventualities.
The Parish priest asked that the group be disbanded because retired Bishop Adrian Dungu had stopped them from camping at the church.
However, Irene Tibaaga, the District Police Commander, who had a meeting with the church leaders, declined to use force to evict the worshippers.
She said this would give the impression that the Government was dictating issues and had interfered with Church work.
District leaders had requested the church to evict the group since their worship contravenes the Catholic doctrine.
The parish priest said the cult followers, whose founder is Speciosa Mukantabana, among other teach against sex, eating pork, announce doomsday, do not accept modern medicine, don't work hard during day, all contrary to the Church.
by Milton Olupot and Geoffrey Kamali ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 25, 2000)
THE National Fellowship of Born-Again Churches of Uganda yesterday denounced the Kanungu doomsday cult, saying it was not part of them.
The organisation which held a press conference at the Namirembe Christian Fellowship (NCF) church, also condemned the massacre of hundreds of Ugandans by the cult, headed by self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere.
The press conference was attended by over 80 church leaders.
The leaders, visibly disturbed by links to the cult, backed a call by President Yoweri Museveni for a commission of inquiry into the deaths.
They said they were willing to be part of the commission.
Simeon Kayiwa, the chairman and principal pastor of NCF, said they wanted to correct the impression that the cult "is a born-again one."
"A lot of falsified information has been made against us. From recent statements across the country, we have decided to meet here because someone may use the Kibwetere massacre to persecute us," he said.
"We condemn the act, the cult and cult leader for the shame and anguish our nation is currently wallowing in. We would like to clarify that the underlying force of this act and cult is not God but Satan," he added.
Kayiwa, who defined a cult as "teaching of extra visions other than the biblical doctrine," said they were disturbed by increasing public ridicule, linking born-again Christians to the Kibwetere cult.
by John Kakande ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 25, 2000)
KOOKI Member of Parliament Gabriel Lukwago, has refuted reports that he was a follower of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, responsible for the recent Kanungu deaths.
"I have never been a follower of any cult and I will never be. I have not even joined the Catholic charismatics," Lukwago told The New Vision yesterday.
Mary Frances Owor, the Rakai RDC, told The New Vision on Thursday that Lukwago was a follower of the cult.
by Henri Cauvin ("The New York Times", March 25, 2000)
MBARARA, Uganda, March 24 -- The Ugandan police today discovered 153 bodies buried in shallow graves on land belonging to the same doomsday cult involved in hundreds of deaths late last week, the authorities said.
The people had been killed, and among the dead were at least 59 children, a police spokesman said.
"They were killed," said Eric Naigambi, the deptuy spokesman for the police.
"With 153 people, how could it be anything else? They are trying to figure out how they were killed."
He said the authorities were trying to determine exactly how they died.
A week ago, hundreds of followers of the group, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, died in a fire in a makeshift church at their headquarters in Kanungu, on the southwestern edge of the country.
The fire appeared at first to be a mass suicide, motivated by prophecies about the end of the world. But evidence is mounting that at least some of the dead were not suicides.
Investigators went to the site of the latest discovery, about 30 miles from Kanungu, on Thursday, in search of additional information on the group. It had a base in the town, according to local news media here in the regional capital.
"They had reasonable suspicions that there were mass graves around that place," Mr. Naigambi said.
The investigators came upon a foul odor and began digging, the local media said. They found at least two mass graves, one with 105 bodies and the other with 48 bodies.
Some of the victims appeared to have been strangled, while others may have been slashed, the police told Agence France-Presse.
It was the second discovery of more dead bodies in the week since the fire. On Tuesday, the bodies of six people were pulled from a pit latrine in a building next to the site of the fire. The six, who could not be identified, also appeared to have been slain, the police said.
So far, investigators have found no survivors of last week's fire, leaving them with little to go on as they try to figure out what happened.
So far, they say, they know that hundreds of followers of the cult, which promotes a return to life according to the Ten Commandments, assembled in the hillside chapel on March 17, perhaps for a morning of prayer, perhaps for a morning that they were told would mark the end of the world as they knew it..
But they were lured into one room, and no one apparently made it out. A raging fire swept the room, apparently killing everyone inside. Amid the charred detritus of the building and its occupants, the police were able to count 330 dead.
An untold number of people are believed to have been burned to ashes. An exact toll may never be known.
As the police have learned more about the group, they have begun looking at the case more as a murder investigation and less as a suicide. "We feel the leaders of this cult murdered their followers," the police department's deputy regional commander, Stephen Musoke, said today.
Founded about a decade ago, the movement imposed a rigid lifestyle on its adherents, encouraging even married couples to give up sex and demanding that followers sell off all their possessions and give the proceeds to the organization. It is the last finding that has emerged as most troubling to the police, who suspect that the group's leaders. "It looks like they have been robbing the people," Mr. Musoke said.
That has led the police to suspect that the leaders eluded the fire. "We think that some of the leaders may be off somewhere enjoying this wealth," Mr. Musoke said. "We are really looking for these people using all of our available resources."
At the top of their list is Joseph Kibwetere, 68, who helped found the sect, and became the spiritual and financial force behind it. Active in the region's Roman Catholic life for many years, he was a teacher and a supervisor in Catholic schools.
But he broke with the Catholic Church in the late 1980's and was eventually expelled by the local bishop.
Estimates of the group's membership have ranged from 1,000 to 5,000. And it is only the most troubling tip of a problem the government faces with religious cults, which have been growing in popularity in recent years. The government has tried to crack down on those that have emerged as threats to security, including two shut down recently.
Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Mass Suicide in Uganda
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