RUGAZI, Uganda, March 28, 2000 (Reuters) - The naked, decomposed body of baby is lifted from a mass grave and dumped on top of a growing pile of month-old corpses.
After a cursory examination by a doctor, an entry is added in his colleague's notebook: "Body no. 47, infant, gender unidentified, with rope round neck."
Moments later the tiny corpse is unceremoniously plucked from the heap by a bare-chested inmate from a local prison and thrown into a freshly dug grave.
The unknown baby was one of about 70 corpses discovered on Monday in the garden of Father Dominic Kataribabo, a leader of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, some 700 of whose members have now been found dead.
Hundreds of curious bystanders, many of them children, watched as shoeless prisoners pulled body after body from the narrow, eight foot (2.5 metre) deep grave in Rugazi, the third to be uncovered in the last four days in southern Uganda.
Another 153 corpses were found in two graves at another site belonging to the cult in the nearby village of Buhunga on Friday. Some 500 more were found burned to death in their church in Kanungu earlier this month.
Police initially treated the Kanungu blaze as mass suicide. Now they are treating it as mass murder.
Cult leaders, they suspect, may have been systematically killing followers for months after a prediction that the world would end at the end of the millennium failed to come true.
Almost all the bodies were naked and none were recognisable. Skin had lost its pigment and the piled up corpses shone an unnatural, almost translucent white under the searing sun.
The bodies of 26 children were pulled out of the grave. Most had ropes tied around their necks, and police said they appeared to have been garrotted. At least three were babies.
Children held leaves from cypress trees to their nostrils to counter the smell. Prisoners, standing barefoot on bodies in the grave, wound bandages round their heads to cover their noses.
With no trained pathologist available, local medical practitioner Ben Twetegeria was called in to try to establish the cause of death.
"The freshest corpses are at least one month old, the oldest up to three months," he said, adding that the most common forms of death appeared to have been strangulation and stabbing.
Police said 74 corpses had been pulled from the grave, but Twetegeria and his assistant only recorded the details of 66.
Witnesses said some corpses appeared to have been hurriedly reburied before their details were taken, and the true number may never be established.