div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Sect's dead hold secrets: Police cannot afford murder investigation"

by Andrew England (Associated Press, April 6, 2000)

SWESWE, Uganda -- Police Cmdr. Freddie Kayima had waited long enough for Uganda's top cops to make it to his neck of the woods, where a religious movement's 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 530 sect members to death in a chapel in Kanungu, Uganda's cash-strapped police have struggled to keep up with the discovery of hundreds more hacked, strangled bodies in pits. The police are 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 Wednesday, after a sect 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 group was said to have had an active presence in Sweswe; 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 toSweswe. 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 semiautomatic rifles.
But once at the site, all he could do was look. His men carried nothing but rifles, notebooks, mobile phones and short-range radios.
Kayima didn't dare start digging without permission from authorities in the capital, and he didn't have it.
What he didn't know was that his superiors already had suspended digging, 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 Wednesday.
Tests on bodies already exhumed from mass graves were to start Wednesday, 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 doctor from the area, 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 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.

"'Burn her,' says cult leader's former lover Uganda massacre"

by John Gradon ("National Post", April 6, 2000)

CHUNGA, Uganda - If Credonia Mwerinde, the charismatic ex-prostitute and cult leader, is still alive, the old man who was once proud to love her and call her his wife now wishes her nothing but death for her sins.
"I am angry that a woman I loved so much turned out to be such a terrible human being inside," Eric Mazima says in his office, a mud-covered brick building in this hamlet high in the mountains.
A beefy security guard sits imposingly at the side of the village elder and former politician.
"If she is alive she should be captured, she should be brought here and they should burn her, too. She should be burned so that she feels how she made people suffer, how she made children's children suffer," Mr. Mazima, 70, said in an interview conducted through an interpreter.
Authorities suspect that the woman he once loved is alive and on the run after the mass cult killings that claimed the lives of 1,000-plus people at Kanungu and other cult sites in Uganda's southwest.
Many more probably died, but other suspected mass gravesites remain unexplored by the police, who have suspended their searches because they have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the crime.
The old man rests on a wooden table then suddenly thumps the wood with his fist. He, too, thinks she might still be alive.
"What is needed is that people in the mainstream religions make sure no more cults should be allowed to deceive people the way she did ... getting them to follow her and her cult until they died.
"It saddens me so much. The government and mainstream religions should reply to all these cults here, fight them, not allow them to come up because unless they do fight, the cults will finish us here."
Ms. Mwerinde ran the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult in Kanungu along with two men, Joseph Kibwetere, who claimed to be the church's bishop, and Dominic Kataribabo, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest.
They told their huge flock the world would end at the start of 2000, that the only safe place on Earth was the cult's compound, and parted the people from their money and valuables.
It appears that when the world survived, many of the congregation demanded their money back.
And they started to die, 530 of them in the cult's blazing church at Kanungu on March 17. They were burned alive, consumed by gasoline-fuelled flames and trapped behind windows and doors bolted from the outside, police said yesterday.
Hundreds more were strangled or beaten to death at houses and compounds around southwest Uganda.
Eric Mazima does not miss the irony of the Kanungu connection -- it was there he "first started to do business" with Ms. Mwerinde in 1979.
He parted company with her in 1988, when she started to claim that she was having visions of the Virgin Mary on a rock face.
"It started as business, my time with her," Mr. Mazima says. "She was my sixth woman. I still have my other five. I used to walk to her.
"She was good at business and professional. She was ambitious, social and friendly. But even then she had a really strong spirit.
"She was liked by all the men because she was a prostitute. But she was liked by the women, too, because she was friendly.
"Eventually I loved her very much and she loved me. She became my wife in another village, my mistress."
Mr. Mazima shakes his head: "At that time there was no sign she was a leader of people. She was very strong but not a leader." Their relationship deepened with time. "I was proud she was my wife," he says.
But things changed when Ms. Mwerinde began to speak in the village about her visions at the rock.
"She took me there to see the Virgin Mary," Mr. Mazima says.
He describes a house-size rock with two caves big enough for people to crawl into on their hands and knees.
"Between the caves, there is a pillar of rock. She said she could see the Virgin standing with her back facing out to the world. She said, 'The Virgin has turned her back on people because of the terrible sins of the world.' " "I could not see it and I told her that. I remember it was Aug. 10, 1988. On Aug. 24, I told her I was finished with her. It was directly because of her so-called vision.
"I couldn't see the Virgin, I didn't believe it was there, but others believed her and said they could see it, too. Soon they were following her. Soon, more, and then more and more."
"That's when I decided to part with her. I just thought that because she was a prostitute she was wanting other men and this was a way to get rid of me. But men and women started following her."
"That's how it all started. The other two men joined her, but I know she was the leader. I saw it happen. I saw it happening, the people following her."
And soon the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was a reality and built a hilltop compound on a hill overlooking Kanungu.
Inside, the growing congregation was trained in a regimen of silence.
"That's how they manipulated them, how they controlled them. They couldn't talk to each other," the old man says.
"She was the leader because she was the one who took them there, they followed her, they started building. They started tearing the land. Everyone was following her."
And so Mr. Mazima, the man who once loved her, now calls for her death.
Uganda does have the death penalty but it has been rarely used in recent years because there are moves in parliament to repeal it.

"Arrest Warrants Issued in Uganda"

by Andrew England (Associated Press, April 6, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Uganda issued arrest warrants today for six top leaders of the doomsday cult blamed in the deaths of at least 924 followers, the country's head prosecutor said.
The six have been charged with murder and face death by hanging if arrested and convicted, said Richard Buteera, director of public prosecutions.
Authorities, however, do not know the whereabouts of the six, nor whether any of them survived the March 17 chapel fire that killed 530 followers of their Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The six include cult leaders Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde and Dominic Kataribabo.
Known to followers as ``The Prophet,'' Kibwetere, 64, was the central figure of the harsh, apocalyptic sect in southwestern Uganda. It was Mwerinde, however, who many say was the mastermind of the cult. Known as ``The Programmer,'' the 48-year-old claimed to have direct contact with God and the Virgin Mary.
Kataribabo, 32, was an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest, who some local residents believe may have died in the March 17 chapel fire that killed 530 of the sect followers.
Buteera, speaking by phone, identified the other three only as Joseph Kasapurari and two people with the last names of Kamagara and Komuhangi. No further information was immediately available on the three.
No sightings of the cult leaders have been reported since the church fire, which alerted authorities to the sect's deadly destruction and started a search that has uncovered 394 more corpses in mass graves at several cult compounds.
The search for bodies has been suspended for lack of proper equipment, such as rubber gloves for the inmates put to work exhuming the mass graves.
Prosecutors said they expect further arrest warrants, but would not elaborate.
Police have already taken in for questioning a regional official accused of squelching reports of the sect's activities.
Police say Richard Mutuzindwa, deputy resident commissioner in the area of the church fire at the time it occurred, was close to the sect's leaders and attended cult functions.
``We believe that he had some knowledge of what was happening,'' Erasmus Opia, acting director of the Criminal Investigation Division, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The AP obtained documents today showing that top authorities in Kampala sent local police a ``very urgent'' warning in January that the sect was reported to be kidnapping children and burying those who died in mass graves.
Local police dismissed the kidnap warning as ``a little bit unfounded'' and rejected the mass grave claim entirely.

"Kanungu Spanish visitors were in-laws"

("New Vision" [Kampala], April 6, 2000)

The Spanish nationals who visited Kibwetere's camp in Kanungu last year were in-laws to Fr Kasapurari, one of the cult leaders, a close family friend has said.

"Kanungu: State House orders CID Chief arrest"

("New Vision" [Kampala], April 6, 2000)

State House has asked the Inspector General of Police, John Kisembo, to cause the arrest and prosecution of the Rukungiri District CID officer, P. Mugizi, for "culpable negligence" over the activities of the Kanungu cult, reports Peter G. Mwesige.
In a letter to Kisembo, presidential aide Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, who wrote on behalf of the Principal Private Secretary to the President said, "The events of the last three weeks now show that the District CID officer totally neglected his duty. He did not do any investigations at all."
The letter dated April 04 and copied to internal affairs minister Edward Rugumayo added: "There is absolutely no reason why he should not be arrested and prosecuted for this culpable negligence."
Over 500 members of the doomsday cult died in a church inferno last month. Bodies exhumed from different locations in Western Uganda, where the cult had branches, have brought the death toll to over 1000.
Mugizi's troubles stem from his alleged failure to investigate the activities of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God following a letter from J.B. Okumu, the State House CID boss, to the Rukungiri District Police Commander.
Okumu's letter dated January 25, 2000 said that a State House employee from Rukungiri, Conrad Baryamwisaki, had complained about the illegal existence of a religious cult in Kanungu, Bugongi and Kashewahere. It said Baryamwisaki had alleged that the cult headed by Joseph Kibwetere kidnapped and held children against their will and that of their parents.

"Searching for Kibwetere victims"

("New Vision" [Kampala], April 6, 2000)

The Police have asked people whose relatives have gone missing since January 2000, with no proper account of where they went, to report to the nearest Police units.
"The Police is in the process of compiling a register of people who may have gone missing since January this year, especially those believed to have been members of the "Restoration of the ten Commandments of God" cult," Police PRO Eric Naigambi said yesterday.
In a statement signed by Naigambi for the Inspector General of Police, the IG said, "Arrangements are already in place to ensure that nobody will either be arrested or inconvenienced after providing such information."
The information will later be compiled into a register, which will help Police estimate the extent of damage made by the cult, the statement said.
Over 500 people are believed to have perished in the March 17 inferno at Kanungu, Rukungiri.
Over 500 bodies of the victims were exhumed from various cult branches in western Uganda.

"Police find two abandoned children"

by Raynel Kanyambu ("New Vision" [Kampala], April 6, 2000)

Police in Bushenyi have found two abandoned children in the make-shift church used by the doomsday cult, the Movement for the restoration of Ten Commandments of God, at Bwotoogo, Bushenyi town.
The make-shift church used to be the home of Baryaruha's ten-member family feared to have died in the Kanungu inferno on March 17.
The officer in-charge of crime, Mr. James Bangirana, Wednesday said the children aged 10 months and two years were abandoned four days before the horror.
Neighbours suspect the children, whose identities are still not established, to have been deliberately left behind. "The children were left with their niece, Natukunda, in the nearby Kyeitembe village," Rosemary Mihama, the only surviving family member, said.

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

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Revised last: 7-04-2000