Cult tragedy in Uganda


BBC News, March 18, 2000

At least 120 followers of a religious cult have been found burned to death in a church in Uganda.

Early reports said it was a mass suicide, and that followers of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God sect had locked themselves in a makeshift church and set themselves alight after several hours of chanting and singing.

But later reports suggested the congregation died after their leader lured them into the church and set it on fire.

Police put the death toll between 100 and 230, but said they were having difficulty counting the bodies which were burned beyond recognition.

"There were families inside, even small children," Jonathan Turyareeda, a local police officer, told Reuters news agency.

The incident happened on Friday at Kanungu in Rukingiri district, about 320km (200 miles) south-west of Kampala, nearr Uganda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo

A police team has flown to the church to start an investigation. They said there was no clear indication as to the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Uganda's Internal Affairs Minister, Edward Rugamayo, told the BBC that if he had known about the group in time he would have dispersed them.

Following the leader

A police spokesman said the act was committed at the instigation of the cult's leader, a local man. "He told believers to sell off their possessions and prepare to go to heaven" he said.

The group, which reportedly believed the world would end in the year 2000, had been active in the region for some time.

The government has dispersed two cults in Uganda over the past year, claiming they posed a threat both to themselves and to the local community.

Police raided a compound of the 1,000-member World Message Last Warning Church in the central town of Luwero last September.

The said they found seven girls who had been sexually assaulted, three boys being held against their will and 18 unidentified shallow graves.

In November about 100 riot police raided and disbanded an illegal camp at Ntusi in Sembabule district, home of a self-styled teenage prophetess who was said to eat nothing but honey.

The authorities regarded the camp as a security threat, with rebels known to have infiltrated the area.


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