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The BBC's Anna Borzello
"Cult members were selling off property in preparation for entering heaven"
 real 28k

Saturday, 18 March, 2000, 20:06 GMT
Cult tragedy in Uganda
Map
More than 200 followers of a religious cult in Uganda are thought to have died in an apparent mass suicide.

The bodies of the members of the cult - known as the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God - were found in their church in the small town of Kanungu.

They had been burned beyond recognition. Police said this made it impossible to give an exact number of dead, but some reports put the toll at more than 235.

The details of what happened are still sketchy. Local people said there had been rumours that the leader of the cult was urging his followers to sell their possessions in preparation for death.

"There were families inside, even small children," Jonathan Turyareeda, a local police officer, told Reuters news agency.

The incident happened on Friday at Kanungu in Rukingiri district, about 320km (200 miles) south-west of Kampala, near Uganda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A police team has flown to the church to start an investigation. They said there was no clear indication as to the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

Uganda's Internal Affairs Minister, Edward Rugamayo, told the BBC that if he had known about the group in time he would have dispersed them.

Following the leader

A police spokesman said the act was committed at the instigation of the cult's leader, a local man. "He told believers to sell off their possessions and prepare to go to heaven," he said.

The group, which reportedly believed the world would end in the year 2000, had been active in the region for some time.

Mass suicides
March 1997-San Diego: 39 Heaven's Gate followers poison themselves believing UFO would pick them up

Oct 1994-Switzerland: 48 Solar Temple members found burned in chalets

Oct 1993-Vietnam: 53 hill tribe villagers die using primitive weapons, led by blind man Ca Van Liem

Nov 1978-Guyana: 914 drink cynanide, led by Rev Jim Jones
The government has dispersed two cults in Uganda over the past year, claiming they posed a threat both to themselves and to the local community.

Police raided a compound of the 1,000-member World Message Last Warning Church in the central town of Luwero last September.

The said they found seven girls who had been sexually assaulted, three boys being held against their will and 18 unidentified shallow graves.

In November about 100 riot police raided and disbanded an illegal camp at Ntusi in Sembabule district, home of a self-styled teenage prophetess who was said to eat nothing but honey.

The authorities regarded the camp as a security threat, with rebels known to have infiltrated the area.

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See also:

20 Sep 99 | Africa
Police swoop on Ugandan cult
18 Mar 00 | Africa
When devotion means death
23 Nov 99 | Africa
Ugandan millennium cult smashed
25 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Doomsday cult leader arrested
02 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japan targets Aum cult
28 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
China hits out at sect
13 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cult or religion: What's the difference?
05 Jan 99 | World
Cults: Worry ye not
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