Warrants Issued in Ugandan Deaths

AP, April 6, 2000
By Andrew England

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Ugandan authorities issued arrest warrants Thursday for leaders of the deadly doomsday cult, saying they assumed the six had survived the sect's fiery end and gone into hiding.

Meanwhile, documents obtained by The Associated Press show national officials warned local police about the cult in January. The local police dismissed the reports of children's kidnappings and mass graves as ``a little bit unfounded,'' according to the documents.

Thursday's arrest warrants were the first in Uganda's nearly three-week investigation, which started when the sect's chapel burst into a gasoline-fueled inferno, burning alive 530 people sealed inside. Subsequent searches turned up 394 more corpses stuffed in mass graves and a latrine pit.

The warrants name the most prominent sect figures: official sect leader Joseph Kibwetere, known as ``The Prophet;'' and Credonia Mwerinde, an ex-banana beer vendor known as ``The Programmer'' and widely seen as the true mastermind of the sect.

Also charged is Dominic Kataribabo, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest who some locals believe perished in the March 17 fire.

The three others named - Joseph Kasapurari, John Kamagara and Ursula Komuhangi - were listed on registration papers and other documents of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.

All six are charged with 10 counts of murder. They face death by hanging if caught and convicted.

Police said the murder counts represent the first 10 victims to be positively identified. Many of the 924 corpses found so far were burned or rotted past recognition and hastily interned without study. The search for more bodies has been suspended indefinitely for lack of proper equipment, including rubber gloves for the inmates put to work exhuming the mass graves.

The cult leaders have not turned up among the confirmed dead.

``We believe they are alive and in hiding,'' said Erasmus Opia, acting director of the Criminal Investigation Division in Kampala. ``We have no evidence to the contrary.''

No clues have surfaced as to the whereabouts of the cult leaders. Uganda has obtained international warrants for the six through Interpol.

In spring 1999, officials who investigated a sudden series of deaths among the cult's children at a compound at Rushojwa were told they had died of malaria. Police dropped the matter then after being shown papers indicating the sect had registered as a legal nongovernmental organization in 1997.

On Thursday, more recent correspondence obtained by the AP showed an investigative director in the Ugandan president's office sending a ``very urgent'' warning to police officials in the southwestern district where the cult operated. The warning was dated Jan. 24, nearly two months before the church fire.

The letter from Special Branch director J.B. Okumu relays another officer's warning that the cult was reportedly kidnapping children and burying children who died in mass graves. On Feb. 5, Okumu received a reply from a local police director dismissing that and other claims in the letter.

``The allegation of kidnap and retaining young children against their parents' will is a little bit unfounded,'' wrote P. Mugizi of the district's Criminal Investigation Division. The official said the children in question came from broken homes and could be staying with either parent.

``There are also cases where kids go to the organization willingly but without the consent of the parents. It is also untrue that the dead children are buried in one common grave,'' Miguzi wrote.

The police already have one local government official in custody under suspicion he took gifts from the cult and knew something about what was happening, Opia said. The official has not been charged.

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