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The BBC's George Eykyn
"Uganda struggles to come to terms with the horror"
 real 28k

John Nagenda, Ugandan government spokesman
"A terrible tragedy of gullible human beings"
 real 28k

The BBC's Martin Dawes
"More bodies are being discovered in public latrines"
 real 28k

Monday, 20 March, 2000, 10:28 GMT
Police among Uganda cult dead
Villages hold rosemary to their noses
Villagers mask the smell of death with aromatic herbs
Four police officers were among the hundreds who burned to death in an apparent mass suicide in Uganda.

"These are the very people we expect to warn us about these kind of dangers," said Interior Minister Edward Rugumayo, who visited the scene on Monday.

Professor Rugamayo is expected to report back directly to President Yoweri Museveni, who has urged religious and community leaders to guide people away from cults.


Police officer in church
A police officer surveys the burnt-out church
Officials estimate that up to 500 people died in the blaze at the headquarters of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult on Friday.

A tangle of charred bodies remained in the makeshift church on Monday in the small trading centre of Kanungu, about 320km (200 miles), southwest of Kampala.

Ugandan newspapers said that a local prison was preparing to arrange a mass burial.

Crackdown

President Museveni said although his government believed in the freedom of worship, it also had a duty to protect people from "dangerous" religious leaders.



"The president was actually angered to learn that the adults who carried out what he called 'this barbarity' had taken children with them and subjected them to this cruelty," his spokeswoman said.

Mr Museveni "criticised the leaders of some religious cults, which are increasingly luring unsuspecting people, taking advantage of their property and misleading them into beliefs that endanger their lives," Ugandan radio said.

Police said the adults who died would be treated as suicide victims, but those under 18 would be regarded as murder victims.

Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, reduced to husks piled one on top of another and fused together by the heat.

Identification will be almost impossible and it is unlikely an exact death toll will ever be reached.

Police said rescuers who arrived at the scene had been unable to reach the cult members, as the doors and windows had been nailed shut.

End of the world

Inspector General John Kisembo said all the evidence pointed to a mass suicide.

"We know that the leaders of the church must have planned it."

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


Religious icons
Religious icons were found around the movement's compound
One report said the group's leader, the charismatic former opposition politician Joseph Kibweteere, told his followers to sell their possessions and prepare to go to heaven.

It was not known whether Mr Kibweteere and other leaders, including several ex-communicated Catholic priests and nuns, died with their followers.

Evidence of the cult's Roman Catholic roots lay scattered around the compound.

Three statues of Jesus stood in the abandoned offices, while a large crucifix had been laid carefully on green cloth draped across a chair.

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See also:

20 Mar 00 | Africa
Quiet cult's doomsday suicide
20 Mar 00 | Africa
Analysis: Why East Africa?
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
13 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cult or religion: What's the difference?
05 Jan 99 | World
Cults: Worry ye not
20 Mar 00 | Media reports
Ugandan cult member's warning
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