Uganda suicide cult was probed for child abuse

Reuters, March 19, 2000

KAMPALA, March 19, 2000 (Reuters) - The Ugandan Doomsday cult whose followers committed mass suicide on Friday had been under investigation by local authorities since 1998 for mistreating and possibly kidnapping children, local papers said on Sunday.

More than 200 members of the "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God," some leading children, set themselves alight in their church in southwestern Uganda in the belief the end of the world was approaching, police said.

Police said they were treating the deaths as both suicide and murder because children were involved.

The extremist Christian cult had already come under the scrutiny of the local authorities in late 1998 when a primary school they were running was closed down.

Uganda's state-owned New Vision newspaper on Sunday printed a letter from local district administrator Frank Ntaho closing down the boarding school, which was reported to have 300 pupils.

"The children are only given porridge for lunch, they sleep on the bare floor without blankets and mattresses, look malnourished and are subjected to child labour while some are staying with you without their parents' knowledge," Ntaho said.

"While further investigations to bring you to book are still going on, the district council has decided to stop your operation as a school with immediate effect," he wrote then.

The police declined to comment on the report on Sunday.

Local papers said the sect, one of several Doomsday cults to have sprung up in Uganda in recent years, was registered as a non-governmental organisation in 1997, but had been in operation since the early 1990s.

The police said all 235 registered members of the sect had probably perished in the fire, and probably some unregistered new arrivals as well.

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