Ugandans Find Fresh Cult Grave, Remove 28 Bodies

Reuters, March 28, 2000

RUGAZI (Reuters) - Ugandan police on Tuesday found a new mass grave containing at least 28 bodies and said they expected to find more at a site used by Doomsday cult leaders suspected of murdering hundreds of the group's members.

Police say the 700 bodies found so far in mass graves and a burnt-out church in southwest Uganda, including more than 100 children, appear to have been slain systematically by cult leaders. The latest discovery came under the floor of a room in the house of cult leader "Father" Dominic Kataribabo at Rugazi. More bodies were visible in the grave.

"There are more bodies (in the grave) than we have pulled out so far," said police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi, adding that police would return Wednesday to continue their work.

Seventy bodies were dug up from a separate grave in Kataribabo's garden Monday, and Mugenyi said digging began on Tuesday at five more sites used by the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. After a cursory examination Monday, a doctor said many of the victims from the first grave at Rugazi, which included 26 children, had been strangled or stabbed to death.

Police Dig Up Bodies Again

The bodies were swiftly reburied, but Tuesday police, with the help of inmates from a local prison, dug up many of the corpses for a second time for proper forensic examinations.

"Some we think were poisoned, but we will establish that later," police pathologist Thaddeus Barungi said after taking liver samples from five corpses.

Mugenyi said police would also revisit the nearby village of Buhunga to exhume for a second time the corpses of 153 cult members found Friday. Investigators would also revisit Kanungu, where about 500 people were burned to death in the cult's church on March 17.

Police initially treated the blaze as a mass suicide, but are now treating it as mass murder. They suspect that cult leaders systematically killed their followers for months after a prediction that the world would end at the end of the millennium failed to materialize.

"This is systematic," Mugenyi said. "Once, they were asked 'who among you doesn't believe the world is going to end?"'

"They were told to write down their names (if they did not believe). We strongly suspect these people have been killed here and in Buhunga and at other sites."

One theory says some cult members -- who had been asked to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the church -- demanded their money back when Doomsday did not arrive on December 31.

Police said they would also look for bodies under the freshly-cemented floor of the cult's church at Rugazi and near the burnt-out church at Kanungu, where a pit latrine containing six bodies still smelt of rotting flesh.

Mugenyi said he estimated the cult had 4,000 to 5,000 members, although not all are thought to be dead, since some may have defected in recent months. Some were helping the police.

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