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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, 21:35 GMT
Hundreds die in cult inferno
More than 235 followers of a religious cult in Uganda are reported 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, in the southwest of the country.

There were about 235 registered cult members but there are likely to be more killed in the fire - ladies, children and men,

Assum Mbabazi, police spokesman
They had been burned beyond recognition. Police said this made it impossible to give an exact figure for the number of dead.

Chief Inspector John Kisembo told the BBC: "It is not clear how many died or who they were because inside the church it was a mass of charred bodies."

Another police spokesman, Assum Mugenyi, told Reuters news agency there were about 235 registered cult members.

He said more than that were likely to have perished in the fire, including women and children.

A team of police doctors is being flown to the site of the makeshift church in Rukingiri district, about 320km (200 miles) south-west of the capital Kampala, near Uganda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I think it calls on the state to review the issue of cults and see what measures need to be taken to protect the ordinary people from cult leaders

Amama Mbabazi, minister of state for foreign affairs
They will try to establish exactly how many people died.

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.

End of the world

Witnesses said there were signs that the cult were getting ready for a big event in the days leading up to the fire.

Members of the cult had bought up crates of soft drinks for a large party thrown by the group's leader, Joseph Kibweteere, in the middle of last week.

Mr Mugenyi told Reuters news agency that the wooden-framed windows of the church appeared to have been boarded up and there was no sign of a struggle.

The bodies were found in the centre of the shell of the building.

Mr Kibweteere predicted the world was going to end on 31 December 1999, according to a report in The Monitor newspaper on Sunday.

But, the newspaper said, Mr Kibweteere had revised his prediction to 31 December 2000, when nothing happened at the end of the century.

Recent clampdowns

The Ugandan Government has broken up two cults in the south in the past year.

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
A government spokesman said it had no prior knowledge of the Kanungu cult. If it had, it would have dispersed it too.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Amama Mbabazi, told the government-owned Sunday Vision newspaper the government needed to review its procedures towards cults.

"I think [the fire] calls on the state to review the issue of cults and see what measures to take to protect the ordinary people from cult leaders," Mr Mbabazi said.

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.

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See also:

18 Mar 00 | Africa
When devotion means death
20 Sep 99 | Africa
Police swoop on Ugandan cult
23 Nov 99 | Africa
Ugandan millennium cult smashed
01 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's computers hit by cult fears
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
25 Oct 99 | Middle East
Christian 'cult' detained in Israel
13 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cult or religion: What's the difference?
09 Jan 99 | Europe
EU considers action on cults
05 Jan 99 | World
Cults: Worry ye not
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