Warrants issued for heads of Uganda cult

Independent Online, April 06, 2000

Kampala - Uganda issued arrest warrants on Thursday for six top leaders of the doomsday cult blamed in the deaths of at least 924 followers, the country's head prosecutor said.

The six - including Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde and Dominic Kataruioabo, the cult's most prominent figures - have been charged with 10 counts of murder, said Richard Buteera, director of public prosecutions.

They face death by hanging if arrested and convicted.

Authorities have yet to detain any of the six, or even determine if they survived the explosive March 17 church fire that killed 530 followers and alerted authorities to the destruction of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.

Subsequent searches of sect compounds turned up 394 bodies piled in mass graves and thrown into a pit latrine.

Only one sect follower is known to have survived the church fire, a 17-year-old boy who slipped out that morning to eat at his father's.

Buteera said authorities' case consisted only of details previously disclosed, but said, "We now have enough information to take this action."

There was no immediate explanation why authorities brought only 10 charges against the top cult figures, or whose deaths those charges represented.

Three of the charged were the most best-known figures of the sect.

Kibwetere, a 64-year-old excommunicated Roman Catholic, was known as "The Prophet" to his followers.

Mwerinde, however, was suspected to be the true mastermind of the cult. Known as "The Programmer," the 48-year-old ex-bar worker wielded clout in part by claiming to have direct contact with God and the Virgin Mary.

Kataribabo, 32, was an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest. Some locals believe he died in the gasoline-fueled fire at the locked church at Kanungu.

Prosecutors identified the other three charged only as Joseph Kasapurari, John Kamagara and a suspect with the last name of Komuhangi. No details were immediately available on any role they had in the killing.

No sightings of the cult leaders have been reported since the church fire - and investigators have given no sign of having clues as to their whereabouts.

The search for bodies itself has been suspended for lack of proper equipment, such as rubber gloves for the inmates put to work exhuming the mass graves.

Prosecutors said they expect further arrest warrants, but would not elaborate.

Police already have in custody a regional official accused of squelching reports of the sect's activities. He has not been charged.

Earlier on Thursday, The Associated Press obtained documents showing that top authorities in Kampala sent local police a "very urgent" warning in January that the sect was reported to be kidnapping children and burying those who died in mass graves.

Local police dismissed the kidnap warning as "a little bit unfounded" and rejected the mass grave claim entirely. - Sapa-AP

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