Uganda makes first arrest in Doomsday cult probe

Reuters, March 30, 2000
By Adrian Blomfield

MBARARA, Uganda, March 30, 2000 (Reuters) - Ugandan authorities said on Thursday they had arrested a local government official for suspected links with the Christian Doomsday cult whose leaders appear to have murdered at least 800 of their followers.

Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo said police had arrested Reverend Amooti Mutazindwa, an assistant district commissioner in southwest Uganda, for allegedly suppressing an intelligence report that suggested the cult posed a security threat.

Police also said they would question him for possible links to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, which operated throughout southwest Uganda and is thought to have had up to 5,000 members.

Although he is not a leading suspect -- police have asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants for four cult leaders they believe are on the run -- Mutazindwa is the first person to be arrested in connection with the killings.

President Yoweri Museveni ordered a commission of inquiry last week into reports that local administrators had ignored warnings about the Doomsday cult from their own intelligence officers.

"I am hearing he himself (Mutazindwa) may be a member of that group, although he is reverend himself," Museveni told reporters last Thursday.

Police have found around 800 bodies of former cult members, including more than 100 children, who appear to have been killed by their leaders after a prediction that the world would end at the end of the millennium failed to come true.

Around 500 charred bodies were found in the burnt-out remains of a church in the town of Kanungu.

The fire was originally thought to have been a mass suicide, but in the wake of more grisly discoveries police are now treating the case as mass murder.

Last week, they found 153 bodies buried under a house used by the cult in the village of Buhunga, and this week they unearthed another 155 corpses from the house and garden of prominent cult leader "Father" Dominic Kataribabo in Rugazi.

The corpses showed signs of having been strangled, clubbed or hacked to death in recent weeks or months, although forensic tests now suggest poison may also have been used.

Investigators Still Digging For Bodies

Police said they would begin digging on Thursday at a fourth site used by the cult in the district, which lies in a remote and hilly corner of southwest Uganda close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and just north of Rwanda.

Several other sites are still to be investigated, and police, clearly overwhelmed by the scale of the murders and their own meagre resources, say they will also return to Kanungu to check reports that there are more bodies buried there.

Ugandan newspapers quoted a police chief in the region on Thursday as saying cult leader Joseph Kibwetere and several assistants escaped from Kanungu by car shortly after the church there was set ablaze on March 17.

Former cult members said they were forbidden to talk by their leaders, communicating only through gestures, prayer and songs. Sex between cult members was also barred, as was the use of soap, by leaders who said they communicated directly with Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

But discipline could have begun breaking down when Doomsday did not arrive at the end of last year. Some cult members, who had been asked to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the church, appeared to have started asking for their money back -- a possible motive for the mass killings.

Nevertheless it remains a mystery how so many people could apparently have been systematically murdered without apparently raising the suspicions of local people or government officials.

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