Uganda Says Cult Leaders Killed Systematically

Reuters, March 25, 2000
By Tom Walker

BUHUNGA, Uganda (Reuters) - Ugandan authorities said on Saturday leaders of a doomsday cult appeared to have systematically killed cult members for months, and feared finding more mass graves around the country. On Friday, 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.

Authorities said more bodies could be found at that site, as well as at three other locations used by the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in the region.

The latest find was just 60 km (40 miles) from Kanungu, where some 500 members of the same cult died when their church burned down a week ago. ``The evidence is of violent death,'' said local member of parliament Brigadier 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.''

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.

Cult Leaders ``on The Run''

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.

``It was a planned move to murder people, and we suspect these people (the leaders) must be on the run,'' police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said, adding that photographs would be circulated to newspapers and Interpol. Locals said cult members had left Buhunga to congregate at Kanungu around a week before the inferno there. Hours after fire killed them all at Kanungu, the deserted compound in Buhunga was also mysteriously set ablaze, they said.

On Saturday, the six buildings in the small compound stood completely empty, their roofs having caved in or burnt down. There were no police in sight. Behind the main building a mound of earth and the smell of rotting flesh marked the spot where the corpses were swiftly reburied by local prisoners after their discovery on Friday.

Muhwezi said the bodies were accidentally discovered by local villagers who had noticed a depression in the floor of one of the buildings.

``They thought they might have found hidden things like money, but then they touched a body,'' he said, adding police had yet to look under the other buildings.

``There could be more bodies, we will have to check the latrine, under the showers and in other rooms,'' he said. Muhwezi, a former head of the country's internal security agency, also criticised police handling of the job, and said he wanted the bodies to be exhumed so the cause of death could be properly determined.

``I don't know why there was such a hurry,'' he said. ``I have to confess it was a very poor investigative job.''

A young cult member told local papers this week he had seen cult leader Joseph Kibwetere and his assistant Gredonia Mwerinda leave the church at Kanungu just before the fire.

Kibwetere, 68, is a failed politician and self-styled prophet who claimed to have heard a conversation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus in 1987 predicting the world would be destroyed for not obeying the Ten Commandments.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.