Murder charges await leaders of massacre cult

The Guardian, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 7, 2000
By Anna Borzello

As pressure mounts on the Ugandan police force and government officials to explain how the doomsday cult went unchecked for so long, six arrest warrants have been issued for the leaders -- if they are still alive.

THE Ugandan government yesterday issued six arrest warrants on 10 counts of murder each for the leaders of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult, more than 700 of whose members have died.

The warrants are for the cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere, the "programmer", Credonia Mwerinde and four of the "apostles", Catholic priest Dominic Kataribabo, and three leaders named only as Kasaburai, Kamagara and Komuhangai.

"There are 10 counts [each] for now, but it could be more. The investigations are still going on. This is just to get them arrested," the director of public prosecutions, Richard Buteere, said. "This is a holding charge. If they are arrested, the proper charge shall be preferred."

It is not clear what prompted the police to issue the arrest warrants, other than the need to appear to be doing something to solve what looks as if it may become the largest cult-related massacre on record.

Although the Ugandan police have admitted that the demands of the investigation are beyond their under-resourced capacity, pressure is mounting on the force and government officials to explain how the cult could have gone unchecked for so long.

Reports emerged yesterday that, weeks before the doomsday cult's fiery end, top authorities in Kampala sent local police a "very urgent" warning that the sect was reported to be kidnapping children and burying those who died in mass graves. Police have denied the existence of the children's graves, but the disclosure follows the arrest of a local government official for covering up a previous security report.

Also, in the spring of 1999, officials who were investigating a series of sudden deaths among the cult's children at a compound in Rushojwa called of their inquiry after being told they had died of malaria.

The bodies of 725 cult members have been found since the start of an investigation that was at first thought to be mass suicide.

At least 330 - and possibly as many as 500 - were killed in a fire on March 17 at the cult headquarters in Kanungu, western Uganda. A further 395 bodies have since been exhumed from four sites operated by the cult in the western Ugandan districts of Rukingere and Bushenyi.

Police believe that there are still more bodies in other sites in the area, but they have temporarily halted exhumations because of a lack of funds and expertise.

One body, sprawled out by the rear exit of the church in Kanungu, had been identified as that of Father Kataribabo. But the harried director of the criminal investigation department, Erasmus Opio, declared yesterday that there was no evidence that any of the cult leaders had died.

"We are looking for them all, both within the country and outside," Mr Opio said. "We believe they are alive. There is no evidence that they are dead."

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