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"Cult Dead Were Tabliqs - Awori"

by Henry Ochieng (The Monitor (Kampala) April 5, 2000)

Kampala - The Kanungu mass murder mystery deepened yesterday with Samia Bugwe North MP, Aggrey Awori, linking some victims with missing members of the Tabliq Muslim sect.
Awori told a meeting between minister of State for Security, Muruli Mukasa, and Parliament's committee on Presidential and Foreign Affairs that 38 bodies exhumed from a mass grave "bore characteristics uncommon to the area".
"I had told the minister for Internal Affairs about it and he said that I should wait for the probe and bring the information. These 38 bodies were all circumcised!" Awori told the committee.
Awori said he was informed of the circumcised victims by a security agent who has been working closely with investigating officers.
Speaking to The Monitor after the meeting, Awori said it's possible that the circumcised bodies could belong to "Tabliq Muslims". This brings a new twist to Joseph Kibwetere's doomsday cult which March 17 burnt over 530 people in a church in Kanungu, Rukungiri. More than 500 other apparently murdered people have been found in mass graves at sites used by the now banned cult.
Awori and other MPs now claim something sinister is being "covered up" by government.
"They (government) say the Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO) reported his suspicions about the doomsday cult to the assistant RDC (Rev. Mutazindwa). It's usual procedure for the GISO to give a copy of his reports to the District Internal Security Officer (DISO)," Awori said.
He wondered why government hasn't asked then DISO, Lt. Fred Mwesigye, who is presently RDC of Kabale, to volunteer his copy of the GISO's report.
"We are just covering up information," Awori charged.
MP Joram Ajeani (Arua Municipality) also raised questions about the mass graves which were discovered days after the March 17 doomsday cult fire.
Ajeani said "there could be political motivation behind this by people who hate President Yoweri Museveni's government".
Commenting on the mass graves, Toskin Bartile (Kongasis) also hinted at a government "cover-up". He said that nothing is being done to identify the victims who have in most cases been re-buried almost immediately after they were exhumed.
Minister of Internal Affairs, Edward Rugumayo added to fears of a government cover-up when he revealed, over the weekend, that journalists will be barred when investigations and exhumation on property used by the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult resumes.
"We will definitely restrict access. You have seen enough. We will definitely keep you out. There has been insensitive reporting," Rugumayo is quoted to have told the French news agency, AFP.
"We will be controlling. But we are not banning anything. But there will be no more cameras. Our police and forensic experts will take the photographs," Rugumayo is quoted to have said.
The MPs also attacked Muruli Mukasa over what they say is government's "cursory handling of the situation".
"I have ascertained the amount of money government has so far given the police to handle the disaster and anybody would be ashamed by it," Rukungiri Women MP, Winnie Babihuga who looked angry said.
Other sources told The Monitor that "the way the bodies were piled on top of each, suggests they were thrown in possibly from the back of a tipper truck. You can't be strangling or poisoning people one by one, and they are buried at the same level at about the same time, 80 of them".

"Spanish visited Kanungu"

by Betty Kagoro ("New Vision" [Kampala], April 5, 2000)

Security sources have revealed that 11 Spanish nationals visited the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult headquarters at Kanungu on August 17 last year.
About 500 people are believed to have died in an inferno exactly six months after the visit. About 1,000 members have been confirmed killed after hundreds of bodies were exhumed from different locations where the cult had branches in western Uganda.
State minister for security Muruuli Mukasa, who was appearing before a committee on presidential and foreign affairs, said the information was got from locals. He said investigations were still going on to establish what the motive of the Spanish visit was.
Muruuli, who was giving the background of the Kanungu cult, said the cult leaders built a primary school called Maria Primary school, but was closed by the authorities in 1993 due to poor sanitation.
He said the cult recruited members at night and orientation was done before they were introduced to other cultists.
Muruuli said the cult was registered as an NGO on November 4, 1993 andit was known to the district authorities.
However, committee chairman Elly Karuhanga asked Muruuli Mukasa to explain why such atrocities could go under his nose undetected.
“This demonstrates a high level of embarrassment on our security performance. We want the inside story of what happened and why it happened,” Karuhanga said.
MPs Capt. Mike Mukula (Soroti Municipality), Aggrey Awori (Samia Bugwe North) and Winnie Babihuga (Rukungiri), asked Muruuli to resign.
Mukula said, “The minister should resign because he has failed to honour his duties.
It happens in other countries where a minister resigns because of the death of just one person.” Muruuli said, “This is the most horrodeous tragedy that has happened to us and it is most ashaming to the country.” He said the incident went unnoticed because some area security operatives were involved in the cult.
“People like the Assistant RDC, the Rev. Mutazindwa, was fully involved in the activities of the cult. Nuns cooked and washed for him in his house and he participated fully in the registration in 1993. He killed all the evidence that the GISO raised about the cult and the surbodinates feared to bring his reputation into question,” Muruuli Mukasa said.
He said this was not detected because NGOs like the Kanungu cult did not rank high as a security threat. He said top on the list is the insurgency in northern and western Uganda, followed by urban terrorism, smuggling and ordinary crime. Muruuli Mukasa said such NGOs would only be suspected if they had connections with insurgency and urban terrorism. He said, “The organisers were highly skilled people; they were clever and one would hardly suspect them of murder.” He said the mass murder was contrived after the prediction of the end of the world failed to materialise. Mukula said in Nigeria, a minister resigned after 59 people died in a plane crash while in Kenya, the responsible minister resigned following bomb blasts, which hit the British and American Embassies there. The New Vision has established that no Kenyan minister resigned after the bomb blasts. The MPs also questioned the capacity and cooperation of Uganda’s intelligence systems. Babihuga said in spite of the early warnings, no office picked interest in the cult. She said the security organs should have monitored the party at Kanungu before the inferno on March 17.

"530 cult victims in Uganda were alive when fire started Chapel doors, windows were bolted from outside"

(Associated Press, April 5, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda -- The 530 people whose charred bodies were recovered after a doomsday cult's fiery climax were alive when their gasoline-soaked chapel exploded in flames, forensics tests showed yesterday.
The chapel's doors and windows were bolted from the outside, preliminary findings confirm.
Investigators have yet to determine whether whoever set the fire died with the victims, but their suspicions have been aroused by three, less badly burned corpses found in a separate room of the sect church at Kanungu, said A.B.M. Lugudo, deputy commissioner of Uganda's forensics agency. "We are still looking to see if these people started the fire and tried to run away, but got caught up in the fire."
The tests were the first results announced in Uganda's probe of the 924 deaths surrounding the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
After the fire March 17 at the church, police found six bodies nearby and 388 others in pits at sect compounds.
Police reported no significant finds during a visit Monday to a site near Kampala, the capital. It was the fifth site known to be examined by police.
Neighbors at the site said it was a home where cult followers had lived for more than a year ago.
The forensics agency will start examining bodies today, Lugudo said.

"Uganda cult members shunned neighbours, never spoke"

by Todd Pitman (Reuters, April 5, 2000)

RUSHOJWA, Uganda, April 5 (Reuters) - Erneo Rwarinda lived a few metres from a house used by the fanatical Christian cult blamed for one of the worst mass murders in recent Ugandan history, but he knew remarkably little about them.
For years members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God -- who included one of Rwarinda's brothers -- spoke not a single word to him, communicating strictly with each other through hand-signs, written messages and prayer.
``These people were just isolated. They were not even permitted to talk,'' 82-year-old Rwarinda told Reuters at his rural home in southwest Uganda.
``When I saw them, they could not greet me. They were just communicating with each other through signs.''
The prohibition on speech was meant to maintain discipline and prevent quarrels. But it also guarded deep secrets.
Last week, police dug 81 bodies -- almost all women and children -- from a grave behind the sect's compound in Rushojwa, bringing to almost 900 the number of followers believed to have been killed.
Neighbours say sect members spent most of their time praying, singing hymns and working in banana and cassava fields.
They rarely went into town or mixed with other residents. A path to the main road used by Rwarinda that once passed by the sect's house was shifted away from it.
Although the rules of the sect were bizarre -- they were denied soap, sex and sometimes school -- local residents said they had no reason to be suspicious.
Local police say they too had little reason to suspect the sect of wrongdoing, despite warnings from a local parish.
A local parish councillor filed a report last year raising concerns over strangers and unaccompanied children in the area, but officials said they could not act because the sect was a registered charity.
``These people were very good taxpayers,'' said James Byaruhanga, a local police official.
``They had permission to operate from the authorities, so we had no reason to stop them.''
The cult apparently had little success in converting people in the area and seemed to draw most of its members from other regions of Uganda, residents said.
But the sect, whose leaders purported to be visionaries with direct links to Jesus and the Virgin Mary, had a powerful influence on those it did convert -- driving wedges even through the deepest family ties.
``He (my brother) tried to convert me in 1994. But when I refused, he never spoke to me again,'' Rwarinda said, adding that he had lost a son and seven relatives to the cult.
Another of Rwarinda's sons, 32-year-old businessman Peter Muhumuza, had a similar story to tell.
``I told my wife I don't want us to join this sect because we are Catholics and these people, they just pretend to be,'' Muhumuza told Reuters.
``But she just kept quiet and joined secretly.''
After a business trip to the capital Kampala, Muhumuza returned home to find his wife and five children gone.
Neighbours said they had left with other sect members to Kanungu, where around 500 charred bodies were found in the burnt-out remains of a church on March 17.
Sitting outside his red-mud house with blue shutters and staring blankly at a wedding ring on his finger, Muhumuza said his uncle -- who was in charge of the house used by the cult -- murdered his family.
But neither Muhumuza nor other residents could find a reason for the killings.
Police believe cult leaders, who told followers to give up their propertiesand possessions because the end of the world was on its way, began killing their followers after the prediction failed to come true.

"Case Overwhelms Uganda's Police"

by Andrew England (Associated Press, April 5, 2000)

SWESWE, Uganda (AP) - Police commander Freddie Kayima had waited long enough for Uganda's top cops to make it to his patch of the western jungle, where a cult site and its ominous secrets stood unstudied.
Kayima - 33, impatient and utterly unequipped - decided to go it alone in the world's largest current murder investigation.
Since a March 17 fire burned hundreds of cult members to death in a slipshod chapel in Kanungu, Uganda's cash-strapped police have struggled to keep up with the discovery of hundreds more hacked, strangled bodies in pits - falling behind so badly that they are considering a formal international appeal for the most basic gear such as rubber gloves.
``We would welcome any help,'' police spokesman Eric Naigambi said today, after a cult investigations group in the United States made one of the few offers of assistance. ``We do not mind, because after all, the whole world is watching.''
Kayima's eye was on a house in the tiny village of Sweswe, 75 miles from the nearest town of any size, Port Royal. The doomsday cult was said to have had an active presence there; neighbors said adults there led their children to the fiery end at Kanungu.
But the exhausted investigative team, lacking money and communications gear, turned back to the capital, Kampala, without ever making it to Sweswe.
Kayima finally forged ahead on his own.
``This is the biggest incident I have ever been involved in,'' Kayima said eagerly last week as he walked deep in the country's rebel-infested bush surrounded by six of his men armed with AK-47s.
But once at the site, all he could do was look.
His men carried nothing but rifles, notebooks, and mobile phones and VHF radios that were useless in the valleys and peaks of the Mountains of the Moon.
Kayima didn't dare start digging without permission from Kampala, and didn't have it.
What he didn't know was that his superiors already had suspended digging entirely, stung by press criticism for putting bare-handed jail inmates to work exhuming the sect's corpses.
The government said the search would resume only when investigators had proper protective gear.
In any case, ``there's not much to see now,'' chief police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said today.
Tests on bodies already exhumed from mass graves were to start today, said A.B.M Lugudo, deputy commissioner for Uganda's forensics agency.
There was only one pathologist working on the exhumed bodies, however, and police reburied many of the corpses as quickly as they were uncovered.
At the first mass grave, the 153 bodies were examined only by a local doctor, who was described as ``overwhelmed.'' Police said they will re-exhume the bodies but it is unclear when that would happen or when or if new sites will be dug up.
``When you have opened a 1,000 people you don't make a report in a day,'' Naigambi said, explaining why the pathologist has yet to produce his report.
And until the police finish their reports, any prosecutions - which Ugandans are crying out for - will not take place.
Richard Buteera, director of public prosecutions, said he was still waiting for a report from the police.
``We do not yet have a case,'' the prosecutor said, and ``we don't have any of these suspects - these are the leaders.''
``It's difficult to really know where they are,'' Buteera said, and then expressed a confidence few watching the search feel. ``If they are alive, it's just a matter of hunting them down.''

"Cult deaths latest blow to Uganda's battered image"

by Gavin Pattison (Reuters, April 5, 2000)

KAMPALA, April 5 (Reuters) - A year after guerrillas murdered eight foreign tourists in a remote Uganda national park, more gruesome killings have again put the east African country in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
The discovery of more than 900 murdered religious cult members has tarnished the country's image abroad and shocked Ugandans, who are baffled that such a massacre could have continued for weeks without being discovered.
``We're hoping that investors can understand that it is a one-off, in one place -- it's not happening in (the capital) Kampala,'' said Margaret Kigozi, director of the Uganda Investment Authority. ``We find it very, very hard to understand.''
Ugandans are bewildered by the scale of the killing of followers of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, whose bodies were found in a burnt-out church and in mass graves in southwestern villages.
They are baffled that in rural areas where news travels fast not a hint of the massacre leaked out before the killing was all over.
``If just one child was missing at home, everyone would know about it at once,'' Kigozi told Reuters.
Equally puzzling is the failure of local government to prevent the tragedy.
``In our area, if someone comes in from somewhere else, I'm supposed to tell my local council chairman, so they should have known what was going on,'' Kigozi added.
The killings have presented the tourism sector with a new battle to restore the country's image, just as it was beginning to recover from the impact of the tourist murders at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in March last year.
``The general perception that the public has is negative, and it will take time to get rid of that tarnished image,'' Mirjam Blaak, director of Delmira Tours in Kampala, said.
``We would like to see a more proactive role from the government,'' Blaak said, echoing the private views of several senior civil servants.
``We've been very disappointed. We should take advantage of all the media that we have here -- in a positive way.''
Uganda is one of the world's 20 poorest nations -- a legacy of the destructive rule of Idi Amin and Milton Obote in the 1970s and 1980s -- and the police have found themselves hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with a crime of this size.
``We don't have communications, we don't have transport, we don't have proper clothing,'' police spokesman Eric Naigambi said.
The police force has just one pathologist to examine the bodies, and has been criticised for employing barefoot, bare-chested prisoners and labourers to dig up the rotting bodies.
To most outsiders, Uganda under Amin became synonymous with brutality and economic incompetence -- the image of Africa at its darkest.
But since 1986, Uganda's commitment to wipe out poverty and stabilise the economy has won praise and money from international donors, so that it can now provide free primary education for all -- albeit with more than 120 students in a class.
``The reality is that Uganda is a desperately poor country trying its best to deal with a horrendous crime which could have happened anywhere,'' said a western aid donor in Kampala.
``An embarrassment -- yes, but the world should be understanding,'' he said.

"Kibwetere's bank account probed"

("New Vision" [Kampala], April 5, 2000)

MBARARA, Uganda, Tuesday - Ugandan police are probing the finances of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult, whose bank accounts they have yet to locate, a police commander told AFP. 
“We are looking for the bank account of the sect even if some witnesses told us there is none, because money can be the explanation,” Stephen Okwalinga, commander of the southwestern region, said here late on Monday.
“We know that the leaders of the sect asked their followers to sell all their belongings, but we have nothing about this money. That’s why we (believe) that they might be still alive,” he said, adding that there had been no trace of money in the Kanungu church where some 400 cult members died in a fire on March 17.
“Our main aims are to make the list of the victims, and looking for the leaders because we don't want to avoid this question (of whether they are still alive) without being sure," he said.
In Kampala, internal affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo said Press access on property used by the Kibwetere cult will be restricted. “We will restrict access. You have seen enough. We will definitely keep you out. There has been insensitive reporting,” he told AFP.

"Museveni transfers Kanungu Assn. RDC"

("New Vision" [Kampala], April 5, 2000)

President Yoweri Museveni has transferred the Assistant Resident District Commissioner (ARDC) for Kanungi, Rukungiri district in a reshuffle made recently, reports Joyce Namutebi.
Rev. Steven Bangumya has been transferred to Kibaale district as ARDC.
He has been replaced by Mugisha Muhwezi, from Kamuli district.
The Minister in-charge of the Presidency, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, said yesterday that the reshuffles took immediate effect.
Muhwezi was replaced at Kamuli by Senvuma Kayita formerly of Kibaale.
Kanungu was the headquarters of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult.
It was also the site of a church fire in which about 540 people died. Since then the death toll of cult members found in several mass graves has risen to 1,000.
The government has apologised for failing to detect and take timely response to stop the mass murder.
Another Assistant RDC, Ouma Adea, has been reassigned to Iganga while Emmanuel Owiny, who was the Iganga assistant RDC, goes to Busia.

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

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Revised last: 8-04-2000