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The BBC's Martin Dawes reports from Uganda
"There have been allegations of child abuse"
 real 28k

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

Monday, 20 March, 2000, 19:12 GMT
Uganda cult fire killed 78 children
Villages hold rosemary to their noses
Villagers mask the smell of death with aromatic herbs
The charred remains of more than 330 bodies, including 78 children, have been counted by police after a mass suicide in a church in Uganda on Friday.


We're going to close down all the branches of this sect and are going to be more vigilant ... But we can't stop freedom of worship.

Interior Minister Edward Rugamayo
The authorities say they have also found the bodies of five people murdered in a pit latrine in the compound of the cult's church in Kanungu in the south-west of the country.

Members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments died on Friday when they were doused in petrol before their church burned down. The windows and doors had been nailed shut.

Ugandan Interior Minister Edward Rugamayo, who visited the remains of the cult headquarters on Monday, said there could be more than 500 dead, as many other bodies "were burnt beyond recognition".


Police officer in church
A police officer surveys the burnt-out church
Prisoners have begun the task of burying the bodies in a mass grave.

It has also emerged that four police officers were among those burned to death.

"These are the very people we expect to warn us about these kind of dangers," said Mr Rugumayo.

President Yoweri Museveni has expressed his deep shock and urged religious and community leaders to guide people away from cults.

The authorities have announced that all branches of the cult would be closed down.

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 were barred.

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 Kibwetere, told his followers to sell their possessions and prepare to go to heaven.

It was not known whether Mr Kibwetere and other leaders, including several excommunicated Catholic priests and nuns, died with their followers.

Mr Kibwetere's son is reported to have visited the scene to pick up ashes for a symbolic funeral. He is quoted as saying that he believes his father was among the dead.

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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