Kanungu Toll Reaches 1,000

Africa News Online, New Vision (Kampala), April 3, 2000
By Alfred Wasike, Matthias Mugisha And Agencies

Kampala - The death toll in the Joseph Kibwetere cult mass murder has reached 1000, the Vice-President Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe has said.

"The official figure reached 1,000 dead people. I believe there will be more than that," Kazibwe told reporters as she arrived in Kanungu, where the cult had its headquarters and where some 400 members died when their church, its windows and doors nailed shut, was torched on March 17.

Wearing a dark trouser suit and dark glasses, Kazibwe had, before the joint service, laid a floral wreath at the mass grave where the victims of the inferno were reburied at the cult headquarters. In attendance were ministers and other dignitaries. The service also featured a children's choir.

Most of the cult's dead were women and children. Most of those attending the service, aside from a sizable representation of the world's media, came from Kanungu and the surrounding area.

Catholic, Muslim and Protestant leaders joined Kazibwe, to lay flowers at the mass grave.

Meanwhile, Police units were scouring the nearby countryside, examining houses and locations once used by the sect led by former Roman Catholic Kibwetere. "The horrific state at Kanungu is no longer a case of mass suicide but a murder carefully planned by criminals still believed to be on the run," Kazibwe said adding that the perpetrators had out-witted the security network by playing on people's ignorance in the name of religion. Kazibwe also said the Government had apologised for failing to detect and take timely response to stop the mass murders which were planned and instituted by the leaders of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments cult. She said the cult leaders were alive and had started spreading to Tanzania and Kenya. The Government has also directed that the NGO board reviews licences of other registered sects and de-register that might be harmful. "It's unfortunate that these criminal acts eluded detection and timely response by our security and intelligence network," she said. She said those who had information prior to the fateful incident but failed to take action would be punished.

The service was led by among others Bishops Robert Gay of the Catholic Kabale diocese, William Magambo of the Protestant West Ankole diocese and John Ntetegyerize of Kinkizi diocese. The Bahai faith was represented by Steven Muwanika and the Muslims by Sheikh Hassan Yusuf, district Khadi of Rukungiri.

Kibwetere's wife, Theresa, her two daughters Mary Ahimbisibwe and Winnie Rugambwa plus their aunt Theresa Bashenya were introduced to Kazibwe who hugged them.

Also present were families of those presumed to be among the victims. "There are other graves that have not been investigated," Kazibwe said.

"This place is very remote. It is very easy to get confused, to get taken to a place like this and be told the end of the world is coming," Kazibwe said. She said she found it hard to console the bereaved.

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