Sect's dead hold secrets

Detroit Free Press, April 6, 2000
By Andrew England

Police cannot afford murder investigation

SWESWE, Uganda -- Police Cmdr. Freddie Kayima had waited long enough for Uganda's top cops to make it to his neck of the woods, where a religious movement's site and its ominous secrets stood unstudied.

Kayima -- 33, impatient and utterly unequipped -- decided to go it alone in the world's largest current murder investigation.

Since a March 17 fire burned 530 sect members to death in a chapel in Kanungu, Uganda's cash-strapped police have struggled to keep up with the discovery of hundreds more hacked, strangled bodies in pits. The police are falling behind so badly that they are considering a formal international appeal for the most basic gear such as rubber gloves.

"We would welcome any help," police spokesman Eric Naigambi said Wednesday, after a sect investigations group in the United States made one of the few offers of assistance. "We do not mind, because after all, the whole world is watching."

Kayima's eye was on a house in the tiny village of Sweswe, 75 miles from the nearest town of any size, Port Royal. The doomsday group was said to have had an active presence in Sweswe; neighbors said adults there led their children to the fiery end at Kanungu.

But the exhausted investigative team, lacking money and communications gear, turned back to the capital, Kampala, without ever making it to Sweswe. Kayima finally forged ahead on his own.

"This is the biggest incident I have ever been involved in," Kayima said eagerly last week as he walked deep in the country's rebel-infested bush surrounded by six of his men armed with semiautomatic rifles.

But once at the site, all he could do was look. His men carried nothing but rifles, notebooks, mobile phones and short-range radios.

Kayima didn't dare start digging without permission from authorities in the capital, and he didn't have it.

What he didn't know was that his superiors already had suspended digging, stung by press criticism for putting bare-handed jail inmates to work exhuming the sect's corpses.

The government said the search would resume only when investigators had proper protective gear.

In any case, "there's not much to see now," chief police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said Wednesday.

Tests on bodies already exhumed from mass graves were to start Wednesday, said A.B.M. Lugudo, deputy commissioner for Uganda's forensics agency.

There was only one pathologist working on the exhumed bodies, however, and police reburied many of the corpses as quickly as they were uncovered.

At the first mass grave, the 153 bodies were examined only by a doctor from the area, who was described as "overwhelmed." Police said they will re-exhume the bodies, but it is unclear when that would happen or when or if new sites will be dug up.

"When you have opened 1,000 people you don't make a report in a day," Naigambi said, explaining why the pathologist has yet to produce his report.

And until the police finish their reports, any prosecutions -- which Ugandans are crying out for -- will not take place.

Richard Buteera, director of public prosecutions, said he was still waiting for a report from the police.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.