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"At least 70 bodies found in cult grave"

by Adrian Blomfield (Reuters, March 27, 2000)

RUGAZI, Uganda (Reuters) - Ugandan police say they have found the partly decomposed bodies of 74 more people, many of them children, in another mass grave of members of a local Doomsday cult.
Officials said many had stab wounds and others had ropes around their necks, and there appeared to be many more bodies buried behind the house of cult leader "Father" Dominic Kataribabo.
The grave included 48 adults and 26 children, bringing to around 700 the number of known victims of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, whose leaders had apparently been systematically killing members for months.
Police said they would return on Tuesday to dig another part of the compound where they suspected more bodies were buried.
Villagers looked on with twigs from cypress trees pressed to their noses to cover the smell of rotting flesh, as a doctor quickly examined the bodies and body parts before they were tossed into another grave.
"Body number 36," the doctor's assistant wrote in her notebook. "Decomposed body of child, unidentified, with rope on neck."
Last week, police found 153 bodies under a building used by the movement in the nearby village of Buhunga. Many had apparently been clubbed, strangled or hacked to death in recent weeks.
Both finds were less than 80 km (50 miles) from Kanungu, where some 500 members of the sect died when their church burned down earlier this month.
Police initially treated the Kanungu fire as a mass suicide, but now say it looks more like the culmination of a systematic policy of killing cult members. Authorities say some cult members -- who had been asked to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the church -- had apparently demanded their money back when a prediction the world would end on December 31, 1999, failed to come true.
Under pressure to return the money, cult leaders could have began to kill off unruly followers, police suspect.
Like the cult members at Buhunga, Kataribabo and dozens of his followers sold the house at Rugazi and went to Kanungu days before the blaze.
The house was empty on Monday, with just a statuette of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on a table in the living room and a small bowl of holy water in front of it. Relatives and neighbours of Kataribabo said they had noticed digging the back garden of the house in recent weeks, but had not suspected anything unusual.
"They used to dig in the garden for crops but we could not see anything because they placed mats against the fence so we could not see in," said neighbour Oworyanawe Harisen, who described himself as Kataribabo's brother.
Police think the 64-year-old former Catholic priest died in the fire at Kanungu. But they say they think other cult leaders, including self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere and his assistant Gredonia Mwerinda are on the run.
Kataribabo was described by Ugandan officials last week as a highly educated man, with a masters degree in theology from a university in California. He had been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic church, but relatives said local people still respected him as a priest.

"73 Bodies Found in Uganda Mass Grave"

(Associated Press, March 27, 2000)

RUGAZI, Uganda (AP) - Prison laborers dug layer-by-layer through rotting corpses Monday, pulling dozens of bodies from a mass grave at a sugarcane field - the third scene of carnage linked to a doomsday cult.
The laborers unearthed 73 bodies, including two dozen children and babies, from the field belonging to a defrocked Catholic priest who was one of the sect leaders. The grim discovery brings the number of cult-related deaths that police have confirmed to 562 since a March 17 fire in a makeshift church.
Two other compounds in southwestern Uganda belonging to the sect remained to be examined. James Bangirana, a local police official, said late Monday that wasn't certain that all the bodies of sect victims had been found.
Some of the bodies recovered Monday bore stab wounds and others had pieces of cloth wrapped tightly around their throats. They appeared to have been dead at least a month, said Dr. Ben Twetegire.
The prisoners, shirtless and shoeless, stood head-high in the trench, sweating and digging under a glaring midday sun as they worked to unearth the bodies.
They covered their noses in gauze and passed cigarettes among themselves to try to ward off the enveloping stench, which drifted for hundreds of yards across lush hillsides overlooking a series of volcanic lakes. Onlookers and police plucked leaves from a cypress tree and thrust them into their nostrils to ease the stench.
As the twisted bodies were hoisted from the reddish brown earth, villagers pressed against the crude wood fence at the edge of the cane field.
But there were no screams of recognition. The bodies were apparently those of strangers - sect members who came for seminars on righteous living and the end of the world from former priest Dominic Kataribabo, a leader in the Movement for the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The bodies, some of them dismembered and one visibly pregnant, were examined for little more than a minute each by Twetegire, who dictated his horrific notes to Medal Magdalene, a 30-year-old health worker. Prisoners then picked up the bodies and flung them into a nearby trench for reburial.
Standing next to the doctor, Magdalene's list went on and on:
Body No. 38. young male. largely decomposed.
Body No. 39. young female. badly decomposed. external signs of violence.
Police inspector Chris Tindigarukayo said authorities didn't wait for forensics experts to examine the bodies before reburial because they feared the spread of disease.
The cursory examinations came as the Ugandan government announced it had created a team of investigators, supposedly to examine the bodies found in Rugazi and re-exhume corpses found elsewhere.
The team, which includes chemists, a pathologist and forensic experts, would be heading into the interior in the next day or so, police spokesman Eric Naigambi said by telephone from Kampala, Uganda's capital.
After Rugazi, the team was to go to the village of Buhunga, where they will re-exhume 153 bodies of sect members found there last week in mass graves, quickly examined by a local doctor, and reburied.
Terenzi Kingera, a regional officer with Uganda's criminal investigation division, said the doctor had been ``overwhelmed'' by the job, so the corpses needed to be re-examined.
Kingera said the investigators' main goal would be figuring out ``how could so many people be killed. Were they poisoned and with which kind of poison?''
The investigation has been plagued by logistical problems since it began. Police are ill-trained and desperately ill-funded, often without vehicles or fuel to power them.
Senior Ugandan officials, meanwhile, have quoted witnesses as saying the sect's two top leaders - Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, and Joseph Kibweteere, 68 - may have left Kanungu on March 17, the same day a church fire there killed 330 members. Six more bodies were later found in a pit latrine in Kanungu.
The fire deaths were initially viewed as a mass suicide. However, many have speculated that the two leaders fled because the world did not end Dec. 31 as they had predicted and sect members wanted back the belongings they surrendered on joining.
Authorities now are treating all the deaths as murders.
Jim Muhezi, a 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 a mass suicide to curb further defections.
Police discovered the Rugazi grave Friday when they came to inspect the compound that had belonged to Kataribabo, who is believed to have died in the Kanungu fire.
Kanungu, Buhunga and Rugazi are all in the mountains of southwestern Uganda, near the border with Rwanda and Congo and no more than 50 miles apart.
The sect once had up to 1,000 members. Authorities fear most may have become victims.

"Uganda death cult probe unearths 73 more bodies"

(CNN, March 27, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda -- Authorities discovered 73 more bodies of members of a doomsday cult as the country's government assembled a team of experts to examine the remains of hundreds of the sect's followers.
Police now blame the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a Christian sect based in southwestern Uganda, for the deaths of more than 700 people. Of those, 562 died in a sealed church that was set ablaze March 17 in Kanungu. The remainder have turned up in mass graves in two other towns.
A detachment of prisoners unearthed the decomposed remains of 73 people, including 28 children, in the town of Rugazi on Monday. Their bodies were found in a mass grave at the edge of a sugar cane field behind the house of cult leader "Father" Dominic Kataribabo.
Some of the bodies showed signs of stab wounds, while some had pieces of cloth wrapped tightly around their throats. They appeared to have been dead for about a month, a local physician said. Officials said there appeared to be many more bodies buried behind the house.
Kataribabo, a former Roman Catholic priest, is believed to have died in the Kanungu fire. Police initially treated the Kanungu fire as a mass suicide but now say it looks more like the culmination of a systematic policy of killing cult members.
A few days later, 153 bodies were found in Buhunga, followed by Monday's discovery in Rugazi. Other cult leaders, including self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere and his assistant, Cledonia Mwerinde, are considered fugitives.
Authorities say some cult members -- who had been asked to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the church -- had demanded their money back when a prediction the world would end on December 31, 1999, failed to come true.  
Police suspect cult leaders, under pressure to return the money, could have begun to kill off unruly followers.
Uganda announced Monday it has assembled a team of forensic experts to investigate the killings. The team includes chemists, a pathologist and forensic experts, and would be heading to the death sites, police spokesman Eric Naigambi said.
With the bodies already being reburied in Rugazi, it was unclear how the investigators would proceed once they reached the village. Police inspector Chris Tindigarukayo, who supervised the exhumation, said the bodies had to be immediately reburied to avoid spreading disease.
The overall investigation has been plagued by logistical problems. The Ugandan police are ill-trained and ill-funded, and often lack vehicles or fuel.

"Third mass grave found"

(New Vision [Kampala], March 27, 2000)

RUGAZI, Uganda, Sunday - Police investigating the death of hundreds of doomsday cult followers in Uganda, found what they feared was another mass grave on Sunday.
They stopped digging when they uncovered the arm of a corpse behind the house of prominent cult leader "Father" Dominic Kataribaabo and said they were waiting for a medical and investigative team to arrive before going any further.
"We think there are other bodies from that hole and we think there are other holes," one local policeman said.
The body appeared to have been buried recently, officials added.
On Friday, the Police found 153 bodies under a building used by the cult in Buhunga in southwest Uganda. Many of the victims were apparently clubbed, strangled or hacked to death in recent weeks. Some may also have been poisoned.
Both finds were under 80km (50 miles) from Kanungu, where some 500 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died when their church burned down a week ago.
"The evidence is of violent death," said local Member of Parliament Brig. Jim Muhwezi in Buhunga. "There were cracked skulls and chopped limbs.
"We think wherever there was a branch (of the cult) there could be mass graves," he added.
Some of the victims in Buhunga were thought to have died up to four months ago, but the vast majority appeared to have been killed this year, some just two weeks ago.
Muhwezi said some cult members - who had been asked to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the church - had apparently demanded their money back when a prediction the world would end on December 31, 1999 failed to come true.
"When nothing happened on the 31st it appeared they (the cult's leaders) had a problem," he said.
The solution appeared to have been to kill unruly cult members. There were 59 children in the three graves in Buhunga, including the body of a two-year-old.
"When they killed the mothers it goes without saying that they had to kill the children as well," Muhwezi said. "There could be more bodies, we will have to check the latrine, under the showers and in other rooms." Police initially treated the Kanungu fire as a mass suicide, but now say it looks more like the culmination of the systematic policy of killing cult members.
Like the cult members at Buhunga, Kataribaabo and dozens of his followers had abandoned the house at Rugazi to go to Kanungu days before the blaze, selling the property to his nephew.
"He told me he had some debts he wanted to clear," said Bart Bainomukama, adding he expected his uncle to return and continue living in the house as a tenant.
Police said they think the 64-year-old former Catholic priest died in the fire at Kanungu, identifying his body next to one of the doors of the church.
But they say other cult leaders, including self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere and aide Credonia Mwerinde are on the run.
Kibwetere, 68, is a failed politician who claimed to have heard a conversation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus in 1987 predicting the world would be destroyed for disobeying the Ten Commandments of God.
Kataribaabo was described by Ugandan officials last week as a highly educated man, with a masters degree in theology from a university in California. He had been excommunicated by the Catholic church, but his nephew said locals still respected him as a priest.

"Kibweter's wife blames cult for family break-up"

(New Vision [Kampala], March 27, 2000)

DOOMSDAY cult leaders brought disharmony to the family of Joseph Kibwetere, his wife Theresa has said, reports Innocent Nahabwe.
Theresa, 64, told The New Vision in an exclusive interview on Friday that her family had been happy and peaceful until Kibwetere's fanatical commitment to the cult brought in confusion and division.
She said the cult leaders manipulated her husband into "a yes man" who acted on their will.
"My husband (Kibwetere) was a loving man, who loved his children and acted on his own principles, but the leaders made him a puppet," she said.
She said she was a devout member of the cult but deserted it after its leaders started using their visions to harass her and her children. "We fought them off the home," she said "These women (Mwerinde and Ursula) would say they had a vision that we wanted to put poison in their food and that we should be beaten for it.
"My husband, who had never beaten any one of us, would then beat them (children) heavily. This was unbelievable; we lost confidence in the cult.
"I quit and fought them out of my home after Angelinan (Mugisha) poured paraffin on my clothes and burnt them to ash, leaving me with nothing. He attempted to hit me with a club.
"I teamed with my children and we fought them out of our home. My husband ordered the Police to arrest my elder son and ordered that nobody should give him food," Theresa further said.
She said her husband was to blame for the Kanungu mass killings, saying the converts including her had joined because he was influential and was seen as a model Catholic.
Theresa said the cult leaders used Kibwetere as a torch-bearer, exploiting his good image, popularity and convincing tongue to win converts.
She said she believed that Kibwetere died in Kanungu because she saw a body that looked like his and whose finger had a golden ring. Only Kibwetere wore such as ring as the cult's bishop.

"Don't feel guilty over cult horror- Bishop"

(New Vision [Kampala], March 27, 2000)

Archbishop Paul Bakyenga of Mabarara yesterday told Roman Catholics not to feel guilty over the Kanungu doomsday cult murder in which hundreds of people were killed last week.
Conducting mass for the Mbarara Archdiocese Development Association at Avemar Shopping Centre in Kampala, Bakyenga said the cult leaders and members had broken away from the Church.
"Feel guilty as a nation, but not as a Catholic. I don't feel guilty, I feel sad," he said.
"These people had left the Church. I was there when Joseph Kibwetere told Bishop Kakubi that God had told him not to talk to us again. That document which they say they sent to the Pope, I was there when the Nuncio threw it in a wastepaper basket," Bakyenga said in a mixture of Runyankore and English.
Bakyenga read out a message from the bishops of Uganda condemning the cult and calling for deviants to return to the mainstream Church.
"There is a lesson to learn. What is the Lord telling us? Any form of religion that breaks people away from the Church cannot be Godly," he said.
Let us return to our home," he said.

"Police quiz soldier over Kibwetere links"

(New Vision [Kampala], March 27, 2000)

THE Police in Namasuba on Entebbe road have quizzed a UPDF soldier, Julius Barigye, over his connections with the doomsday prophet, Joseph Kibwetere.
The Police told The New Vision over the weekend that late last year, Kibwetere and other cult followers stayed at Barigye's house at Ndejje, about two kilometres from Namasuba.
Barigye told The New Vision, that Kibwerete was at one time his tenant.
He, however, said he did not take trouble to find out Kibwetere's background and activities.
Barigye was reluctant to discuss matters concerning Kibwetere but reports in the area said said Barigye was unsuccessfully used by the cult leader to woo the residents to join the cult, the Ndejje LC2 secretary for defence, Mr Moses Lwere, said.

"Fateful Meeting Led to Founding of the Cult in Uganda"

by Henri E. Cauvin ("The New York Times", March 27, 2000)

KABUMBA, Uganda, March 26 -- Meeting Joseph Kibwetere for the first time, the three women told him that he had been anointed to help them spread the word of God, that the Virgin Mary had led them to him, a Roman Catholic known among many Ugandans for his piety, prayer and good works.

To hear Mr. Kibwetere's relatives tell the tale, that meeting in 1989 was the start of a fateful chain of events that led to estrangement from their father and husband, his clash with the Roman Catholic Church, eventual excommunication and, on March 17, the death of at least 330 followers of his cult in a conflagration that engulfed their secluded mountain church at Kanungu.
Whether the inferno was a mass suicide -- the second-largest after Jim Jones led 912 followers to their deaths in Guyana in 1978 -- or a mass murder is unclear.
The Ugandan police, understaffed and underequipped, are leaning to the latter theory, particularly since they unearthed 159 more bodies this week. Six were buried in a latrine beside the burned-out church, and 153 others, including 59 children, at a cult compound some 30 miles away.
Today the police said they were searching for more bodies after finding at least one at a house that belonged to another leader of the cult.
Whatever the truth behind these grisly spectacles, this impoverished, mostly Christian nation of 11 million faces many questions: about the importance of religious freedom in a country where many cults have flourished, about the competence of the government's security and intelligence network, about Mr.. Kibwetere's mysterious Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and, of course, about the man at its center.
Like so much else, the fate of Joseph Kibwetere remains a puzzle. No one knows if he was among the dead in the scorched chapel or if he absconded before or during the fire.
For now, the police are assuming that he and perhaps some of the cult's other leaders are alive, which makes him a murder suspect.
Dead or alive, Mr. Kibwetere is, to his eldest son, a murderer. "I feel pity for those people who died," the son, Juvenar Rugambwa, 36, said at the family's home here. "In fact, I hate my father. If he has escaped and I meet him, I wouldn't hesitate killing him."
Mr. Rugambwa and his mother, Theresa, who bore Mr. Kibwetere 16 children during 40 years of marriage, said the man they had known for decades as a pious Catholic devoted to good works started to change drastically after three women approached him at a service one day in 1989.
The three women -- Credonia Mwerinde, Ursula Komuhangi and Angela Mugisha -- were already leaders of a Christian cult devoted to the Virgin Mary, who, they said, had instructed him to take them in.
And so he did, and so began the cult, the family said. Predicting that the world would end with 1999, the cult crusaded for a return to a life according to the Ten Commandments, saying they were the only path to salvation.
Born in 1932 in this region, Joseph Kibwetere came up through the local Catholic school and, contemporaries say, clung to his faith as the rudder that would lead him and those around him down the righteous path. He became a schoolteacher and ended up back at his own primary school, where he impressed his students with his devotion to his faith.
"He was a godly man," said Matthias Igusha, a student at Mr. Kibwetere's school in the early 1960's. "You could tell by his practice: going to church, tending to the sick."
Mr. Kibwetere's wealth and stature grew, as did his dedication to the church. He became a supervisor for the region's Catholic schools and founded a private Catholic school of his own. Some years later, after moving into government service and politics, he donated the land on which two local Catholic churches are built.
"We never fought," recalled his wife, also a teacher, whom he married in 1960. "We had no quarrels in our home. He was a peaceful man."
The room in which she talked bore the marks of religious devotion: images of Jesus and Mary, rosary beads and prayer cards, a photograph of her husband praying on a pilgrimage to Rome and a certificate recognizing the special papal blessing that he received there.
"We grew up in a lovely home, a lovely family, until he brought those people home," said their son, a contractor and father of four children.
When the three strange women first appeared, Mrs. Kibwetere at first joined in their activities. But as more and more followers came to live on the family's farm, tensions grew between the 200 or so followers and the family.
"When the people came here they started mistreating us, the family members, the children and the mother, saying the Virgin Mary had told them to do things, to keep us without food and to punish us," Mr. Rugambwa recalled.
So he fought back, first on his own, later with the support of his mother and his siblings, against the people who he said had made him feel like a prisoner in his own home.
The family won. In 1992 the cult and its leader packed up and left for Kanungu. Mr. Kibwetere never moved back, despite his family's invitation to do so.
Settled on a magnificent plot of fertile hillside land, the cult set about spreading its message, chiefly through a 163-page manifesto, "A Timely Message From Heaven: The End of the Present Times."
Much of the book is devoted to the revelations that Mr. Kibwetere and other cult leaders said they had received. The volume contains dark prophecies of famines and wars, of rivers turning to blood and of food turning to poison. It enumerates the problems that will be visited on particular countries: "Mozambique will be destroyed by its own machinery," and "Japan will have rain falling for as long as my Father wants."
With Mr. Kibwetere as chief proselytizer, the cult took hold.
"This man was prominent in many ways," his son said, pointing out his father's service on government commissions and his role as an organizer for the opposition Democratic Party. "People respected him because he was religious and he had money. When you have money, you are respected and liked. And he had a convincing tongue. He was bright. He was educated."
But in the eyes of the church, Mr. Kibwetere had become a sinner of the worst kind, claiming to have contact with God himself and refusing the orders of an old friend, Bishop John Baptist Kakubi, to desist.
Florence Igusha, who came to know Mr. Kibwetere through her husband, is thankful for the bishop's admonitions. "I think if the bishop had not stopped us, I think most of us would have joined him," she said.
The church's anger grew when he recruited two priests to his cause, and eventually Mr. Kibwetere was excommunicated.
"In effect he challenged the leadership of the pope," the now retired Bishop Kakubi told the official government newspaper, New Vision.
The cult's ranksswelled, with estimates of its peak membership ranging from 1,000 to 4,000. To join, people were expected to sell off their possessions and turn over the considerable sums of money, say many relatives of those who perished at Kanungu.
On the compound an ascetic lifestyle took hold, with sex even among married couples discouraged and communication limited largely to a system of sign language in which they were instructed, the relatives said.
Exactly what happened when the world did not end on Dec. 31, 1999 is not clear. What is known is that dozens of followers converged on the Kanungu compound on March 16 and 17, joining hundreds already there.
On the morning of March 17 the flock gathered in the chapel, which faced Rugyeyo Mountain. One blaze, or maybe several, were ignited.
At 12:45 p.m. the police station at Rukungiri, the headquarters for the area, received a radio call, the deputy commander, Stephen Musoke, said last week. The call was from an officer in Kambuga, a couple of villages from Kanungu and the nearest one with a police post. There had been a fire at the headquarters of the Kibwetere group, the officer reported, and there were people dead.
Only as villagers and police officers descended on the smoldering building did the scale become apparent. The remains of hundreds of people, mostly their bones and in some cases only their ashes, lay massed at one end of the chapel. Virtually no one could be positively identified, and by Monday night they had all been buried together in a grave alongside their wrecked house of worship.
The day before the fire, a parcel from Kanungu arrived at the home of Mr. Kibwetere's family. It contained books and documents from the cult, its certificate of registration, a copy of the 10 commandments of the cult and other items. All was sent, the family believes, by Joseph Kibwetere.
"Nobody else would have sent them," the son said. "He wanted us to carry on the message."

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

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