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"Judge To Head Kanungu Probe"

by Margaret Muhanga (New Vision [Kampala], April 14, 2000)

Kampala - The Cabinet has proposed a six-member panel to investigate the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God doomsday cult at Kanungu, the state minister for internal affairs, has said.
Sarah Kiyingi Namusoke yesterday told the parliamentary committee on defence and internal affairs that a High Court judge will lead the team. She did not name the panel.
"We are treating the Kanungu incident as a high profile criminal act and that is why the President has nominated a High Court judge to head it," Kiyingi said.
She said that the Cabinet has also drafted the budget estimates for the commission and submitted it to the Ministry of Finance. She refused to divulge information on how much will be involved or when the commission might begin work.
"The commission of Inquiry is not going to restrict itself to the Kanungu issue but to also look into how much freedom the government is going to allow in mushrooming religious sects," she said.
The committee, chaired by Chris Mudoola (Kigulu North), also heard that the NGO registration board has suspended registration of cults until scrutiny of their activities is finalised.
Kiyingi exhumation of bodies would continue. "We know where the other graves are and we will continue to exhume when the equipment is here," she said. Kiyingi said the head count of those who died at the hands of the cult leaders so far is 725.

"Ugandan authorities revoke legal status of doomsday sect"

(Associated Press, April 14, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- Authorities have revoked the legal status of the Christian doomsday sect whose leaders are believed responsible for the killings of at least 924 people, the state-run newspaper reported Friday.
Government officials voided the sect's registration as a non-governmental organization one week after the March 17 inferno at a cult compound in southwestern Uganda that killed 530 people, the New Vision newspaper said.
Police investigating the fire and killings of 394 other sect members had recommended the action against the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The sect "had been turned into a criminal gang," police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said Friday.
Following the fire at Kanungu, 200 church organizations in the region encompassing the capital Kampala registered with authorities, the newspaper said.

"Kibwetere cult deregistered"

by Felix Osike ("New Vision" [Kampala], April 14, 2000)

The Non-Governmental Organisation's Registration Board has revoked the certificate it issued to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten commandments of God citing the group's criminal activities.
The decision was taken by the NGO board at its sitting on March 23 and 24 after the Kanungu church massacre in which over 500 people were burnt to death.
Hundreds of mutilated bodies, have also been dug up from the leader's compounds putting the death toll at over 1,000.
Resident district commissioners and officials at the justice ministry have been notified of the revocation. All the cult branches countrywide have been closed.
The assistant secretary of the NGO Board, Paul Buisi, signed the letter.
The revocation notice was posted to the church's address of P.O.  Box 19,  Karuhinda, Kanungu, Rukungiri.
The certificate was signed by the Board chairperson, MP Joyce Mpanga, and three other members; F. B. Nshemeire, Bireke Kagwa and Mrs. K. Katunguka.
The New Vision has learnt that the Movement had acquired legal status. The certificate of incorporation was signed by Assistant Registrar of Companies, Joel Cox Ojuk.

"Rwanda Cops Arrest Cult Members"

by Hrvoje Hranjski (Associated Press, April 13, 2000)

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) - Fearing a repeat of the cult deaths that horrified neighboring Uganda, Rwandan authorities have detained eight members of an obscure Christian sect on charges of illegal assembly and unauthorized worship.
The eight members of the Minevam sect were taken into custody Wednesday, but three have been released after promising to abandon their round-the-clock regimen of prayer, said Karegyesa Kamiri, a local official in Byumba, 30 miles north of the capital, Kigali.
Kamiri said no links had been established between the Minevam sect and Uganda's Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of the God.
A March 17 fire in the movement's chapel in the southwestern Ugandan village of Kanungu killed 530 people. After the inferno, authorities unearthed a series of mass graves in nearby villages, turning up 394 more corpses, many strangled or stabbed.
On Tuesday, Ugandan police offered a reward of $1,300 for information leading to the arrest of the six leaders, though it wasn't clear how many of them are alive.
Kamiri defended the detention of the Minevam sect members.
``We don't want to experience the kind of horror that took place in Uganda,'' he told The Associated Press. ``We shouldn't allow that kind of worship of a sect that's not well known.''
Kamiri said the members - whom he described as ``school dropouts'' - insisted God was coming but otherwise refused to talk with police or disclose details about their sect or its name.
The eight Rwandans, both men and women, had abandoned school and retreated to an unfinished house near the central market in Byumba, where they spent day and night in prayer, Kamiri said.
``They've been operating without the knowledge of authorities,'' he said. ``The place does not fulfill necessary conditions for worship. It is not a church.''
The sect members were never formally charged, although they violated the law on illegal assembly and unauthorized worship. The three released members were given ``the benefit of a doubt'' when they promised to abandon sect practices, Kamiri said.
Although predominantly Roman Catholic, many Rwandans have turned to Protestant evangelical churches since the 1994 genocide of at least 500,000 minority Tutsis and political moderate Hutus. Catholic leaders had close ties with the extremist Hutu regime that orchestrated the killings and was later deposed.

"Scholar Wants Bible Revised Says Kibwetere"

by R.M. Isingoma ("The Monitor" [Kampala], April 12, 2000)

Kampala - The director of Independent Bible Scholars in Mbarara, Paul Kabunakuki, has said Kanungu cult leader Joseph Kibwetere could win the case of murder against him if arrested.
He was, April 07, speaking at his house in Kakoba during a debate on the Kanungu cult which is accused of murdering more than 1,000 people in western Uganda.
"Kibwetere shall win the case basing himself on the Christian holy scripture if he is brought before the courts of law," Kabunakuki said.
He said government should not waste resources to investigate people who sell their property to seek the kingdom of God and leave the Bible, the origin of all these things untouched.
"Scholars of this generation need to be more concerned with the cause of the Kanungu massacre rather than the action itself," he said.
He warned that more people shall commit suicide if the Bible is left unchecked. Buganda Road Court, April 06, issued a warrant of arrest against the leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult.
The six to be arrested are Joseph Kibwetere, 68; his deputy, Rev. Sr. Credonia Mwerinde, 56; Movement Secretary Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo, 64; Publicity Secretary Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary Kasapurari, 60; treasurer of the movement Fr. John Kamagara, 82; and an assistant with the movement Rev. Sr. Ursula Kamuhangi, 40.
Buganda Road Court Chief Magistrate Andrew Bashaija said they must be brought to court on May 08, 2000. Quoting from Mathew 19:21, Kabunakuki said Jesus told those seeking the kingdom of God to sell their property and give the money to their leaders. He said Jesus' followers killed a man called Ananias and his wife for retaining some of the money after selling off their land. He said Kibwetere could have killed his followers because they were dishonest.
On Kibwetere's killing of innocent children, Kabunakuki quoted the book of Exodus 12:12, which according to him, shows God himself killing innocent children.
"What if Kibwetere claims the same instructions from the God of the Bible as it was in the beginning," he asked.
He quoted the book of Judges 16:30, where God granted Samson permission to commit suicide and kill more than 4,000 people that were with him in a house. He challenged the courts of law to interpret Mathew 19:21 where Jesus instructs his followers to remove their eyes, and cut off their arms if they lead them to sin.
"I conclude that since it is the brain which leads man to sin, Christians should remove their brains," he said.
Kabunakuki appealed to international courts of law and the International Bible Society to revise the Bible to harmonise society.

"Ugandan Police Seek Cult Leaders"

(Associated Press, April 11, 2000)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Police on Tuesday put up rewards of about $1,300 for information leading to the arrest of any of six cult leaders whose followers were killed across southwest Uganda.
Police have been searching for the leaders since a fire in a cult chapel in the village of Kanungu on March 17 killed 530 people. Following the fire, authorities unearthed a series of mass graves in nearby villages, turning up 394 more corpses. Many of those victims had been strangled or stabbed.
Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi said the rewards are available to anyone - inside or outside Uganda - who helps track down the cult leaders.
It remains unclear how many of the six are alive. Unconfirmed reports say the group's two main leaders, Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere, fled Kanungu just before the fire. Another leader, the defrocked Roman Catholic priest Dominic Kataribabo, is believed to have perished in the inferno.
Mwerinde, an ex-banana beer vendor known as ``The Programmer,'' is widely seen as the real power behind the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The other three for whom rewards are offered are: Joseph Kasapurari, another excommunicated priest; Ursula Komuhangi; and John Kamagara.
Police issued arrest warrants for all six last week, saying they assumed they had survived the blaze and gone into hiding. All of them are charged with multiple counts of murder.
More mass graves are believed to have yet to be found, though ill-equipped police have suspended digging until they have more equipment and funding.
Authorities believe the killings were sparked by an internal revolt after the cult's prediction that the world would come to an end on Dec. 31, 1999 was proved false. After that, police believe cult members began asking that their possessions, which they'd given to the group upon joining, be returned.

"Police promises Shs 12m for cult leaders' arrest"

by David Muwanga ("The Monitor" [Kampala], April 11, 2000)

Kampala - Police has announced a reward of Shs 12m to anyone who will provide information leading to the arrest of the six leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The six are: Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde, John Kamagara, Joseph Kasapurari, Dominic Kataribaabo and Ursula Komuhangi.
"We have put up a reward of Shs 2m for each of the six culprits to anybody who will help provide information leading to the arrest of the six leaders of the cult," police spokesman, Asuman Mugenyi, told The Monitor, April 10.
He said a task force has been established to list what is needed for police to resume exhuming the bodies of all those killed by cult leaders.
"They include body bags, protective wear, disinfectants, and land for re-burying," Mugenyi said, adding that police are still investigating the motive.
More than 1,000 people have been confirmed killed by cult leaders. About 500 were burnt to death inside the cult's church building in Kanungu, March 17.
More bodies have since been found in mass graves on properties owned by cult leaders in Rukungiri and neighbouring districts.
The victims are believed to have been strangled or poisoned, and some bludgeoned or battered to death.
Exhuming of bodies was suspended following public outcry against using bare-foot prisoners, without any protective clothing or proper equipment.

"Nabaasa followers regroup at camp"

("New Vision" [Kampala], April 11, 2000)

Followers of self-proclaimed prophetess Nabaasa Gwajwa of Muzeire-Kanoni in Ntusi, Sembabule, are thronging her camp in Kanoni village to get healed, reports Josephine Maseruka.
At the weekend, over 60 followers, the majority of whom were from the western region, were singing traditional songs in Runyankole at the camp.
Mr. Lutakome Ssentamu, a representative of traditional healers in the Uganda National Drug Authority, visited Nabaasa over the weekend and met with the Resident District Commissioner of Ssembabule, Mrs. Margaret Baryehuki.
Baryehuki said Nabaasa was free to carry on her healing but not to re-build a camp which would be a security risk.
Nabaasa, who feeds on honey, claims to have died and resurrected in1996 and has a number of commandments her followers must follow.
Some of them include abstainance from sex, smoking, eating meat and taking alcohol. Others are no stealing, killing and wearing symbols of witchcraft (ensiriba).

"Catholics advised to shun sect"

("Daily Nation" [Kenya], April 11, 2000)

Kisii Catholic Diocese priests were yesterday warned to keep preachers-cum-healers from Uganda away from their churches.
In a circular to all priests in the diocese, Bishop Joseph Mairura warned that some ex-priests, nuns and ex-seminarians were "hovering around some parishes'' and were likely to influence Catholic priests to join the fanatical sect responsible for nearly 1,000 deaths in Uganda recently.
Reacting to the bishop's circular, Father Stephen Orioki of the Nyamira parish said Catholics should dissociate themselves from those behind the Uganda doomsday cult.
The bishop asked the priests to ensure that those who deliver sermons were authorised by him.
"Priests from Uganda with the highest suspicion they have, unless they have letters of authority to deliver summons in our diocese will not be allowed," he said.
The prelate banned church followers from making any pilgrimage to Uganda.
Reacting to the stand taken by the bishop, the Nyamira Catholic parish Father Stephen Orioki, said the catholic worshippers dissociate themselves from those behind the Uganda doomsday cult.

"Ugandan Cult Leader Trained in California and May Have Been Funded By Californians"

by Sheila MacVicar (ABC News, April 10, 2000)

Mbarara - It began at the home of Joseph Kibweteere and his wife, Theresa. He was a businessman, a respected politician and devout Catholic, who, like many of that faith, believed in the appearances and prophecies of the Virgin Mary. One day at Mass in 1989, the couple was told of a woman, Credonia Mwerinde, who said she had visions of the Virgin Mary. They went to a nearby town after church to meet her.
That relationship would grow, and eventually lead to the formation of a religious cult that is now blamed for the brutal slayings of at least 924 people, more than half of them burned to death in a church fire that appears to have been intentionally set.
Credonia was known as a prostitute. She was also an enormously charismatic woman who claimed to meet the Virgin Mary on a hill above the church. She said the world was about to end and that the Catholic Church did not offer salvation.
She told the couple that the Virgin had told her that if a man named Joseph Kibweteere visited her, he should take her home. He and Theresa did, that day.
The Kibweteeres told their children that "We are very happy today. We have a good chance to live with people who see and talk with the Virgin Mary," one of their children, a son named Juvenal, 36, now recalls.
The Kibweteeres' school-age children were pulled out of school. Soon, Joseph Kibweteere left the bed he shared with his wife and was, instead, sharing a bedroom in a separate wing of their large house with Credonia Mwerinde.
A Priestly Convert
Mwerinde's sister, Ursula, was soon also in the bedroom, as was a Catholic priest named Dominic Kataribaabo, perhaps the group's most important convert.
Kataribaabo was well-educated, and in 1987 received a graduate degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he had gone to study in 1985. He was convinced Credonia saw the Virgin.
The group in 1989 began to attract followers to their new cult, prophesying that the world would end at the millennium. The group's activities went beyond listening to the Virgin Mary. There was witchcraft and sex.
Some 250 former Catholics lived on the Kibweteeres' property, including 60 children hidden in a dark shed.
Converts were forced to sell their property. The cult's leaders took the money, and became fabulously wealthy, according to Ugandan officials.
With his California connections, Father Kateribaabo found rich American sponsors who continued to support him after he broke with the Catholic Church in 1990, according to Ugandan officials.
Ugandan police told ABCNEWS they had located one bank account they were trying to get permission to search, and believe there are others.
No Previous Signs
There had been nothing to indicate Kataribaabo and the Kibweteeres were anything other than a group of religious people. Officials knew of nothing that would indicate they were capable of mass murder, according to police spokesman Eric Nagaimbe.
Church officials told ABCNEWS that it had been anticipated that when Kateribaabo returned to Uganda from his U.S. studies, he would be made a bishop. He never was. The officials were unwilling to further discuss the reasons.
Nagaimbe and others said both Kateribaabo and Joseph Kibweteere were educated, sophisticated and well-connected in Ugandan government and society -the kind of people who could write government reports, dine with top officials and wield strong influence in Ugandan society.
Kateribaabo was described by a Loyola Marymount spokesman as an "ordinary and undistinguished" student.
The Kibweteeres, prior to helping form the cult, had been devout Catholics. They had made pilgrimages to places where sightings of the Virgin Mary had been reported. On a visit to Rome, they had had an audience with the pope.
Joseph was a religious educator, a fund-raiser, with high stature in the community and the Catholic Church.
But by 1992, he had put on the clothes of a bishop and was calling himself a prophet. By 1995 he claimed to communicate directly with God.
Two Lives Saved
Juvenal, the son, was of the few who challenged the group, rescued his mother, and forced the cult to leave the house.
"My father said that I was mad, that I was driven by the devil, that I didn't know what I was doing," Juvenal recounts.
What he did probably saved his life and his mother's.
The leaders of the cult - the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God - built a new church and a school in another village.
Soon after the millennium passed without the apocalypse the cult had predicted, at least 924 of the group's followers were killed.
About 500 members of the group were burned alive on March 17 inside the cult's chapel in the town of Kanungu.
At Kataribabo's home, police found 155 additional bodies - some were strangled, others poisoned. Hundreds of other bodies were found in other mass graves.
Today, six of the cult leaders, including Joseph Kibweteere, Kataribaabo and Mwerinde are wanted for murder, and believed to be on the run.

"Circumcised Bodies Not Tabliq - Police"

by William Tayeebwa and Joseph Mugisa ("The Monitor" [Kampala], April 10, 2000)

Kampala - State security agencies have dismissed allegations by MP Aggrey Awori (Samia Bugwe North) that the bodies of circumcised men found in a cult mass grave were of Tabliq sect Muslims.
"MP Awori's allegations that circumcised cult members were Tabliqs is nonsense. The Bakonzo and Bamba here practice circumcision," Regional CID Officer Western, Katte Paul told The Monitor in Fort Portal. He said Kabarole, Bundibugyo and Kasese had up to 200 cult members.
The DPC Bundibugyo, Charles Tumwesigye, also told The Monitor he had confirmed that up to 20 people from his area were murdered by the cult; while the OC CID Kasese, Byekwaso Erastus said more than 30 victims were from Kasese district.
"Apart from the circumcised Bamba members, I have seen one Abubakari on my list, who could be a Muslim," Tumwesigye said.
Regional security bosses were over the weekend reacting to allegations by Awori before the Parliamentary committee on Presidential and Foreign Affairs, April 04.
Awori said up to 38 cult members found in a mass grave at cult leader, Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo's home in Rugazi, Bushenyi district, were possibly Tabliqs because they were circumcised.
Katojo Prison OC, David Ahimbisibwe, also dismissed speculation that they could have been Tabliq detainees killed by the UPDF following an attack on Katojo Prison in Fort Portal, December 09, 1999.
He told The Monitor that the prison was attacked by Allied Democratic Forces rebels on December 09 and 365 prisoners abducted. He said, however, 207 prisoners escaped and reported back to the prison; including up to 60 Tabliqs.
Ahimbisibwe said 46 Tabliqs have since been transferred to Luzira Prisons after they requested to be near their relatives.
Western Region Prisons commander, Augustine Obura, told The Monitor that Awori's allegations were "absurd" since prisoners who returned to the prison said they were rescued by the UPDF.
"An ADF rebel spokesman told the BBC (at the time) that they attacked the prison because we detained Tabliqs for no offence. So how can Awori say the UPDF stage-managed the attack?" he asked.
However, a prominent Muslim The Monitor talked to, wondered why in the first place government moved Tabliqs from Kampala to Katojo prior to the attack. He also wondered why no single prison officer was killed during the attack on the prison which is about 200 metres from an army barracks.
"What Hon. Awori has said should be investigated by foreign agencies such as the FBI not government," he said.

"Tragedy Unearthed: Ugandan investigators believe the leaders of a religious cult murdered hundreds of followers"

by Simon Robinson ("Time", April 10, 2000)

Perhaps it was easier to come to terms with it as yet another case of suicide in which members of an obscure religious cult took their lives in the belief that the world was about to end. Horrifying, yes, but almost understandable compared to the appalling truth that has emerged in the lush green hills of southwest Uganda over the past two weeks. For what was at first thought to be suicide is now known to be murder, and every day last week brought the discovery of new mass graves, more bodies and fresh horrors for the people of Uganda. "We are reeling from shock," says the Minister of Internal Affairs, Edward Rugumayo. "We don't understand how this could happen." The nightmare began on March 17 when at least 530 members of a cult called The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God burned to death in the cult's church near the town of Kanungu. Police called it suicide but puzzled over why the windows and all but one of the doors to the church, which had been converted into a dining hall, were nailed shut from the outside. The discovery of six strangled and mutilated bodies in a pit latrine in a nearby building confirmed their suspicions that a terrible crime had been committed.
The authorities widened their investigation and within days uncovered 153 more bodies--many of them bearing signs of strangulation and stab wounds--from two mass graves in another of the cult's compounds in Buhunga, some 50 kilometers away. Last week 155 bodies, most of them children, were found in two graves--one beneath a closet that had recently been sealed over by concrete--at the Rugazi home of cult leader Father Dominic Kataribabo, 64.
A further 81 bodies were dug up in a cult compound in nearby Rushojwa, bringing the total confirmed dead to 925. "This was systematic murder," says police spokesman Eric Naigambi. "Bodies are stacked on top of each other.
They're packed in like sardines."
The most likely motive for the murders is fraud. Leaders had predicted the world would end on Dec. 31 and had urged sect members to sell or give away their possessions. After Armageddon failed to arrive some followers had reportedly demanded the return of the goods and money they had given to the church. Under pressure, the leaders had rescheduled the earth's end and then, apparently, began eliminating dissenters. Officials believe they poisoned most of the dead but could have used some sort of killing squad.
"The number of people killed could not have been the job of one man," says Rugumayo.
A lack of officers with relevant experience and even the most basic resources, let alone forensic investigative equipment, severely hampered the investigation. The police post closest to Kanungu, set up after last year's fatal attack onforeign tourists in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, has no telephone, radio or car. Uganda's police force has only one pathologist. Police have even resorted to asking journalists for copies of their stories "to enrich our investigations." Says Officer Naigambi, "Our criminal investigation department is not really equipped to the level of a criminal investigation department." Still, Ugandans want to know how so many people could disappear without anyone noticing. Last year police broke up two cults deemed dangerous and another was disbanded last Wednesday. Why didn't they stop the Kanungu cult?
One reason may be that nearly all the cult members had been recruited from elsewhere and had little interaction with locals. "I believe if there had been no fire we would not have known about the other murders for a long time," says Minister Rugumayo.
A more sinister explanation is that people who did notice were silenced.
President Yoweri Museveni told bbc radio that intelligence officers had reported concerns about the cult but that local administrators had "sat on" those suspicions. Last week police were talking to a presidential appointee, the assistant resident district commander, who apparently had close links with the sect. They also want to speak to foreigners who visited and may have supported the cult--Australian, Belgian, German, Italian and Spanish guests--some of whose names were in a visitors' book at the Kanungu headquarters. They believe Joseph Kibwetere, 68, a former Catholic teacher who helped form the cult 10 years ago, and co-founder Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, a former prostitute escaped and may be hiding in Uganda or have crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Late last week, as yet another suspected mass grave was found hundreds of kilometers away from the others, further digging was suspended until international help arrives. When that happens, the gruesome search could reveal more bodies buried beneath Uganda's rich red earth.

Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Tragedy in Uganda

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