by John Nzinjah ("New Vision" [Kampala], April 9, 2000)
Kampala - Security organs and civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo have mounted an intensive hunt for the Kanungu doomsday cult leaders following suspicion that they may be hiding there.
A Ugandan security source based in Beni town of the eastern DRC said Wednesday that unconfirmed reports had been received there that Joseph Kibwetere and his colleagues may have fled into Congo after masterminding the mass murder of over 500 people at Kanungu in Rukungiri district on March 17.
Findings have also revealed that the leaders of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult had, before the Kanungu inferno, killed at least 500 people, burying them in mass graves.
The security source in Bwera, Kasese said on Wednesday that the civilian population in the eastern DRC part controlled by the UPDF had been alerted of the possible presence of the Kanungu cult leaders.
"But this is not to say that Kibwetere and his colleagues ran to Congo. We are trying to hunt for them." If Kibwetere is by any means hiding in the eastern Congo region, which is under the control of the UPDF, then he may not survive because we are very much on the ground," the security source said.
The Goma region of the eastern DRC is under the control of the Rwanda Patriotic Forces (RPF).
Sources at Kanungu said Joseph Kibwetere was seen boarding a vehicle the evening before the inferno.
LCs in the sub-counties of Bwera and Munkunyu in Kasese are trying to establish the number of people from the area who may have perished in the mass murder.
by Erica Werner (Associated Press, April 9, 2000)
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) - The pastor of St. Anthony Church asked his congregation Sunday to pray for mercy for ``Father Dominic,'' the defrocked Ugandan priest who helped perform weddings and other functions here years before he became a mass murder suspect.
The Rev. James F. O'Grady and others who knew Dominic Kataribabo when he lived in the local rectory from 1985 to 1987 said they were shocked to learn that the friendly priest had been implicated in one of modern history's worst cult massacres: His compound in Rugazi, Uganda, hid graves that held 155 rotting corpses.
``Father Dominic was a fine priest, he helped us out in every way possible, doing Mass and ministering sacrament,'' O'Grady said. ``He was a good priest.''
Officials say Kataribabo himself may have died in a March 17 fire at another compound that killed hundreds more people and set off an investigation of the defrocked priest's cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
At least 924 people are believed to have perished as a result of their connection with the cult. Kataribabo became one of the group's leaders after he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1990s.
The group's apocalyptic vision that the end of the world is imminent seems completely out of place at St. Anthony, a modest Catholic church near the sea where parishioners come to Mass in blue jeans and hymns are sung off-key by a ragtag children's choir.
For two years in the mid-'80s, Kataribabo baptized babies, heard confession and helped out in other ways.
``We see it as a real tragedy,'' said Larry Cummings, a congregation member since 1954. ``Human beings are capable of great extremes one way or another.''
Kataribabo came to the church through a Los Angeles Archdiocese program that grants sacramental ministries to priests from Third World countries. The priests are granted scholarships to study for master's degrees at nearby Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit school, and live and work at a local parish.
Loyola records give his age as 63.
Congregants at St. Anthony are used to seeing such men come and go every two years or so. They said Kataribabo seemed no better or worse than any of the others.
``It's so strange,'' O'Grady said. ``Whatever in the wide world happened to the poor man?''
by Craig Nelson and Tim Sullivan (Associated Press, April 8, 2000)
KANUNGU, Uganda (AP) - They came to this quiet village from across the luxuriant green hills of southwestern Uganda, some seeking something to believe in, others the comfort of a home and still others the shared joy of speeding to Heaven when the world stopped.
Most were Roman Catholics grown dissatisfied with their church or simply drawn to the movement by ties of blood. But all became dupes of swindlers who pried loose their possessions with assurances of a place in Paradise, authorities say.
The promise of happiness proved deadly in the hands of what Uganda's vice president called ``diabolic, malevolent criminals masquerading as holy and religious people.'' For at least 924 cult followers burned, choked or stabbed to death, it was all just a counterfeit dream.
Polito Bagambirebyo, 43, knew he was on the path of righteousness - and success.
His mother tried to persuade him to abandon his new creed, as did other relatives who came to his family's neat concrete house outside the village of Rugazi. They watched him lose his property, divorce his wife and withdraw from the people with whom he'd grown up.
But there was no shaking Bagambirebyo. He had found the answer - fasting, sexual abstinence and near-total silence would earn him a spot next to God when the world ended. And he knew that was coming soon.
``My son said he was right,'' said Terezia Kemijumbi, a woman withered by age and grief. ``He said his religion was the only way to heaven.'' Bagambirebyo's journey to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God started with an ardent belief in the Roman Catholic Church and the need for a job.
Forced by his father's death to drop out of primary school, Bagambirebyo struggled to find work. What he eventually found was a calling, becoming a Roman Catholic catechist.
In 1989, Bagambirebyo's boss, the soon-to-be excommunicated Rev. Dominic Kataribabo, joined a Catholic splinter group founded by a banana-beer seller named Credonia Mwerinde. Bagambirebyo followed.
As the movement required, Bagambirebyo sold his possessions and gave the money to sect leaders, left his wife and sent their children to the movement's compounds.
The catechist became a cult proselytizer, a loyal lieutenant to the group's leaders. For the poorly educated man, it was success far beyond his dreams.
When Dec. 31, 1999, passed without the world ending, rumblings began. Some members demanded their possessions back, police say. Soon, believers began dying. After the climactic March 17 fire in a chapel jammed with followers, police found more than 150 bodies buried beneath the ex-priest's house and in the yard.
Bagambirebyo never joined the malcontents. During a visit home just before the fire, his family pleaded with him to leave the sect.
``He refused,'' said Ezra Mpamize, a member of the clan. ``He knew the world would end.'' He did, however, promise to quit if the world wasn't destroyed by the new predicted end-time - 2001.
On March 11, Bagambirebyo received a letter from Mwerinde, the movement's real power. What it said remains a mystery. What followed, though, was the end.
``They really want me back there in Kanungu,'' he told his mother. ``They want me immediately.'' Was the movement flim-flam from the beginning? The sect began in 1989 as a Roman Catholic revival movement, born after Mwerinde - the beer seller - claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary.
The vision came just weeks after she went bankrupt, her former common-law husband said.
She found a receptive audience in a country rebuilding after decades of brutal dictatorships, relentless purges and an AIDS epidemic that was cutting a deadly swath through this East African nation.
Mwerinde's movement became yet another of the hundreds of apocalyptic churches that spring up every year in Uganda's religious ferment.
None of the sect's practices - silence, sexual abstinence, fasting, visions - was completely alien to the Roman Catholic Church. Nor, certainly, was the sect's belief in the world's end and Christ's return.
In the end, the Ugandan sect's leaders manipulated those beliefs. Was it for money? Power? They obtained some of both. But just what drove them to what police call mass murder remains uncertain.
Still, interviews with scores of present and past cult members, and relatives of victims, suggest at least some of the sect's leaders sincerely believed the Catholic church was failing, and that a tiny clique of visionaries had found the path to God.
Lydia Bagambe married into the wrong family.
Years before Mwerinde claimed the Madonna's guidance and founded the movement, Bagambe already despised her then-sister-in-law.
``She was a bad woman,'' she said, sitting in her mud-walled hut propped against a steep slope in Kanungu, a mile from the sect's compound.
Under Mwerinde's influence, Bagambe said, her husband beat her and then divorced her in 1980. Later, she said, Mwerinde took her five children.
It wasn't the first time Mwerinde had divided a family. A former school administrator named Joseph Kibwetere had left his job and family to join her, later becoming the movement's public face and its ``bishop.'' All of Bagambe's children joined the sect soon after it formed in 1989. One grew disgusted with the sect's code of silence and left. The others stayed, less because of the apocalyptic message than out of the need to survive.
``The sect basically took care of them,'' Bagambe says.
Uganda's divorce laws, which favor men, left her powerless to help her children, even when they went hungry. When allowed to visit the children, Bagambe and her brother, Gabriel Muhire, tried to persuade them to leave. It was in vain.
There was another, more sinister reason for her children's' loyalty to the sect. ``If they left, they were worried something would happen to them,'' Bagambe said.
The fear wasn't unfounded.
According to Bagambe, sect members in 1994 locked one of her children, Mary Kyonugisha, in a room for a week and wrapped her legs in burning banana leaves as punishment for ``talkativeness.'' Later, to escape the sect, she moved to the capital, Kampala. In the end, she was Bagame's only child to survive.
International arrest warrants have been issued for six cult leaders, including Mwerinde and Kibwetere, whom authorities believe to have fled. If they have, there has been no sign of them.
Hundreds of believers had been killed and buried in mass graves by the time sect leaders issued a summons for remaining members to gather in Kanungu.
Whether the 530 people who filed into the chapel that Friday morning had any indication of their fate is unknown. But soon, the sound of an explosion resounded through Kanungu's hills. Within a minute, flames engulfed the tin-roofed building.
Inside were Polito Bagambirebyo and his four children, and Lydia Bagambe's children, according to their families. None survived, police said.
Gabriel Muhire ran to the burning chapel, watching helplessly as his nieces and nephews burned to death. His sister stayed in bed, too terrified to face the carnage.
Terezia Kemijumbi rushed to Kanungu when she heard about the fire.
``I couldn't even identify my son,'' she said.
by Edward Ojulu ("The East African" (Nairobi), April 7, 2000)
Kampala - The return to Uganda of exiled priestess Alice Lakwena, who fought President Yoweri Museveni's government in 1987, may be delayed because the government is examining what the impact of her latest claims to "cure" HIV/Aids, would have on local people.
She had earlier been expected to return in January this year but now her claims to cure Aids and the recent massacre of 800 followers of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments in Kanungu has complicated her coming back.
The self-styled Lakwena who led thousands into a rebellion against President Museveni's government in 1987 is known here as a cult leader and there is fear that she can mislead people into a cult organisation again.
Sources said Lakwena, who now lives in Ife refugee camp in Kenya wrote to President Museveni early this year to renew her wish to return and help "cure" Ugandans suffering from Aids. She wrote to the President claiming to have discovered herbs that can cure Aids.
A government source said there were fears that she could use her mobilisation skills to organise people into some sort of a cult, which she has done before, now that she claims to have a cure for Aids. "There is a lot of fear about the influence her cultist tendencies would have on the people she will settle amidst," said the Source.
Mr. Reagan Okumu the Member of Parliament for Aswa, where Lakwena is expected to be resettled when she eventually returns, said: "She is a very good mobiliser and her influence can not be taken for granted." Lakwena led thousands of youths mainly from her Acholi ethnic group in northern Uganda, under her Holy Spirit Movement to fight President Museveni's government using stones, spears and a few guns. She led her followers to belief that their stones, once thrown at the enemy forces, would turn into bombs.
She smeared her fighters with oil made from local fruits and sprinkled them with anointed water for protection from enemy bullets. However, her spirits did not work against a determined Uganda Peoples Defence Force and was defeated in 1988. She fled to Kenya where she lived under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Her Holy Spirit Movement was taken over by her cousin, a former alter boy in the Catholic Church, Joseph Kony, who renamed it the Lord's Resistance Army.
Uganda's Minister for the Presidency, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda told The EastAfrican last week that Lakwena was free to return to Uganda under the recently passed Amnesty Act, but the government will examine her claims to cure Aids, using existing mechanism.
"Her herbs will be examined scientifically through the Uganda Aids Commission and the Ministry of health," said Dr Rugunda. He said Lakwena is in contact with the government to facilitate her return and resettlement into normal civilian life. The government recently donated cows to Alice Lakwena's mother. "We want her to come," he added but declined to say when the former rebel leader would be cleared to return.
The Amnesty Act, which gives all rebels immunity to prosecution was passed by parliament on December 7, 1999 and was signed by President Museveni January 17, this year.
Lakwena has been seeking assurance from the government that she would not be liable to prosecution if she returned home. The minister of state for security in the Office of the President has been co-ordinating Lakwena's return.
Following the Kanungu incidence of March 17, where between 500 and 800 people perished in an inferno, the government has been cracking down suspected cult followers. It has already closed down branches of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments.
(BBC, April 7, 2000)
Doctors have revealed that one of the Ugandan cult leaders accused of massacring more than 900 followers was a manic depressive who had abandoned his treatment.
It has emerged that Joseph Kibwetere, now the subject of an international manhunt, had been a patient at Butabika Psychiatric Hospital in the capital Kampala.
The hospital's senior psychiatrist said he had displayed the classic symptoms of psychotic illness.
His visits to the hospital were unknown to the authorities who licensed his sect, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
Mr Kibwetere's illness was also unknown to the hundreds of followers who were found dead inside the cult's burnt-out church in Kanungu, south-west Uganda last month.
Police have since discovered hundreds more corpses buried in mass graves on properties linked to the sect.
Mr Kibwetere, 64, and his fellow cult leaders preached that the world would end on 31 December, 1999.
Investigators believe that when their forecasts failed to come true they started murdering their congregation.
Butabika Hospital's senior psychiatrist, Dr Margaret Mungerera, said Mr Kibwetere had shown all the symptoms of someone suffering psychotic illness.
"[These people] either have received a message from somewhere, or they're very important, or they're very clever, or they've found a cure for something,'' she added.
''They'll stick to [what they say] irrespective of the evidence."
Dr Mungerera said a person with such delusions could be extremely dangerous.
But the hospital said Mr Kibwetere simply stopped his treatment last year.
Dr Mungerera added that many of the hospital's patients with manic depression had been or were in a cult.
The Ugandan authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of Mr Kibwetere and five other sect leaders on charges of murder.
They have also contacted Interpol, the international police criminal organisation, for help in tracking them down.
The other leaders include Credonia Mwerinde, a former prostitute who set up the cult with Mr Kibwetere, and Dominic Kataribabo, a former Roman Catholic priest.
Each currently faces 10 counts of murder, but further charges are expected to follow as more victims are positively identified.
"We believe they are alive and in hiding," said Erasmus Opia of the Criminal Investigation Division. "We have no evidence to the contrary."
by Silvester Mukudi ("Dayli Nation" (Kenya), April 7, 2000)
Mysterious murders have rocked Bunyala on the Kenya-Uganda border, a heartbeat away from Kanungu scene of recent world shocking killings that left more than 700 dead.
Unlike the Ugandan tragedy, the killings on the Kenyan side of the border have been executed over the time by cultists believed to be from eastern and central Uganda.
Mutilated bodies of victims of a killer group dubbed "Joingo'', have been recovered with missing genitals, tongues, eyes, hair and nails.
The case of Pascal Odwoli, found dead near Sigulu Island, caused the initial uproar over the killings: "We have lost sons and daughters to these murderers. I have no reason to live since my only son is gone,'' said the mother of one of the victims.
A Port Victoria County Council civic leader, who declined to be named, had this to say: "We have been devastated for long. Joingo stage unexpected attacks, killing and maiming their victims. Survivors are too scared to tell their story.'' The name Joingo (strangling to death) sends a chill even among the local administrators. The history of Joingo dates back to 1992 in Siginga village.
The group is believed to be connected to a spiritual leader from Uganda. Locals say the leaders sends men via Lake Victoria to buy blood, tongues and sexual organs of men and women. One victim, Teresa Majimbo, was killed along with her two-year-old daughter. She was pregnant at the time.
A 1992 entrance is the Occurrence Book (OB) at the Port Victoria Police Station indicates the case of Obori Kionza whose body was found with eyes gouged out and without a tongue and hair on his head. A basin of blood, according to the OB, was found in the house of a suspect.
"Since the occult involves black magic, the nails are cut and hair shaved for protection against the spirits of the dead,'' explains the local councillor.
Suspects have ben apprehended following tip-offs by members of the public only to be let off without charge. The transfer of police officers has also stalled investigations.
"The whole issue is sensitive as it appears to involve well connected individuals,'' says an officer who has since been transferred to Busia Town.
However, MP Raphael Wanjala dismisses the idea of a satanic cult operating locally. "Stop this speculation and come forward with the names of the culprits. Otherwise, anybody heard talking of Joingo without facts shall be arrested,'' Wanjala recently warned during the burial of Mr Fascal Nasoro.
A Nairobi-based lawyer, Mr Peter Onialo, concurs: "This whole thing about Joingo is a baseless rumour. How can a group of strangers continue eliminating people unabated?'' Survivors disagree, however. Catholic Priest Protus Osianju stunned Christians in one of his sermons last October when he narrated his ordeal at the hands of the killers.
The prelate was attacked on his way back from burying a catechist at around 10 pm. He was in the company of two administrative leaders when a group of five men armed with machetes and clubs pursued him to the gate of the mission.
"They closed in and surrounded me. I was confused and scared, but somehow I got the courage and dared them to kill me,'' Father Osianju recalls.
But before they could descend on him, the parish priest, Father Simon Matsekhe, drove by. The men vanished into the night.
Most of the killings are executed at night. The danger zones include Marenga, Bubango, Bukani, Namaalo, Siginga and Bukoma.
The motive for the killings remain unclear. But judging from the manner in which they are executed and the victim's bodies mutilated, locals have little doubt that the murders serve a ritual purpose.
The alleged involvement of a spiritual leader from Uganda further gives credence to fact that the Bunyala killings are an act of religious cultism.
Fears abound that this cult is taking root on the Kenyan side of the border.. According to the MP for Kanungu (Uganda), Dr Stanley Kinyata, some of the 700 people who perished in the March 17 cult killings are from Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania - where the Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments leader, Joseph Kibwetere, had recently opened branches.
A sense of helplessness is increasingly common in residents of Bunyala. "It is too expensive for an ordinary person to pin down murderers with full medical proof, not to mention the tedious judicial process,'' notes a teacher at John Osogo Secondary School.
"Whatever one calls it, the truth is that the insecurity in Bunyala is extremely worrying and efforts ought to be made to stop the killing of innocent people,'' says Father Osianju.
(New Vision (Kampala), April 7, 2000)
Court yesterday issued a warrant of arrest for six leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult over charges of murdering 10 followers in the Kanungu inferno.
Edith Kimuli reports that the 62-year-old Joseph Kibwetere, the chairman and coordinator of the cult, and five others allegedly murdered five men and five women on March 17 at Kanungu in Rukungiri district.
Over 1,000 have been confirmed killed in the doomsday cult's inferno and in other murders before it.
Hundreds of bodies were dug from mass graves at the cult leader's homes and churches in the West.
The Kanungu deaths broke the world record of 914. Others accused are Sr.
Credonia Mwerinde, 56, the cult's vice-chairperson, the Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo, 64, the secretary of the movement, the Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary Kasapurari, the publicity secretary, Mr. John Kamagara, 82, the treasurer, and Sr. Ursula Komuhangi, 40.
The cult leaders allegedly unlawfully caused the death of Joseph Nyamirinda; Stephen Katege; Imelda Bwongezire; Beatrice Kembabazi; Rosemary Kengonzi; Christopher Tuginze; Robert Bikorumuhangi; Florence Tumuhimbise; Rogers Tumwine and Pokeria Tinaikakwa.
The case was registered as No. CR/127/ 2000 at the Buganda Road Court. The accused are expected to appear in court on May 8, 2000. "The investigations are still going on. This is not the last charge. We'll have the proper charge," the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Richard Buteera, told AFP.
by Deborah Hastings (Associated Press, April 7, 2000)
NEW YORK (AP) - Before he was wanted for murder in one of modern history's worst cult massacres, Dominic Kataribabo was a student priest in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, living near the ocean and going to graduate school.
The ordained priest from a small Ugandan diocese was granted ``sacramental ministry'' by the clergy in Los Angeles, who helped sponsor his full scholarship to Loyola Marymount University, one of the top U.S. Jesuit colleges, church and school officials said Thursda y.
Also Thursday, on the other side of the world, arrest warrants were issued for Kataribabo, 32, and five other Ugandans in connection with the worst cult-related killings in modern history.
So far, police have found 924 bodies. More than half were inside the nailed-shut doors of a village church. It was set on fire March 17. Many of the caged followers were still alive at the time.
The indicted leaders are believed to be in hiding. Thursday's warrants are the first issued in Uganda's 3-week-old investigation. The death toll now exceeds 1978's Jonestown massacre, which claimed the lives of 913 Peoples Temple followers.
Little had been known about Kataribabo, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest who helped lead the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
He preached that the world would end Dec. 31, 1999.
In 1987, Kataribabo was awarded a master's degree in religious studies at Loyola Marymount. His grades were mostly Bs. He took a few education courses.
``He seemed to be pretty ordinary,'' said university spokesman Norm Schneider, reviewing Kataribabo's records. ``He seems undistinguished.''
Last week in Uganda, under Kataribabo's 10-room house, police found 81 bodies beneath a newly poured cement floor. In the backyard, covered by a patch of sugarcane, were the strangled, mutilated remains of 74 people.
Los Angeles Archdiocese records show Kataribabo was awarded a scholarship under a still-operating university program benefiting Third World priests.
The archdiocese contributes by providing housing to about seven or eight foreign clerics awarded the yearly scholarships. Kataribabo lived in the rectory of St. Anthony's parish, in the coastal city of El Segundo, said archdiocese spokesman Father Gregory Coiro.
Kataribabo left on July 10, 1987. ``He said he was returning to his own country,'' Coiro said after reviewing Kataribabo's file. There were no improprieties listed, Coiro said.
The young man was nominated for the Loyola Marymount scholarship by his local bishop in the Kampala archdiocese.
Neither Schneider nor Coiro knew Kataribabo.
The warrants also name two of the sect's most notorious figures: ``The Prophet'' Joseph Kibwetere, and former banana-beer peddler Credonia Mwerinde, known as ``The Programmer.''
They are charged with 10 counts of murder. If convicted, they could be hanged.
The indictments represent the number of identified bodies. Most victims were so badly burned or rotted they cannot be named. Authorities had them placed in new graves.
(Reuters, April 7, 2000)
KAMPALA, April 7 (Reuters) - A Kampala court issued arrest warrants for six doomsday cult leaders charged with murdering ten people on March 17 in southwest Uganda, the director of public prosecutions said on Friday.
The ten named victims are thought to be among several hundred bodies found at a burned-out church at Kanungu belonging to a cult called the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
Since March 17, police have found more than 900 bodies in the church or in mass graves at other sites used by the cult.
Director of Public Prosecutions Richard Buteera said the charge against the cult leaders, issued on Thursday, would not be the last.
The accused are 64-year-old cult leader Joseph Kibwetere; his deputy, Gredonia Mwerinda; the cult's secretary, Dominic Kataribabo; Joseph Mary Kasapurari, the publicity secretary; John Kamagara, the treasurer; and Ursula Komuhangi.
It is not known if any of the accused are still alive or if they perished along with their followers.
Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Tragedy in Uganda
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