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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins
"The police is treating all the deaths as murder"
 real 28k

The BBC's Anna Borzello
"They've been suffocated or cut"
 real 28k

Saturday, 25 March, 2000, 00:57 GMT
Uganda cult bodies 'hacked to death'
mass cult grave
The victims of the Kanungu fire were buried earlier this week
Police in Uganda say scores of bodies found in mass graves in a site linked to the church fire cult had been strangled or hacked to death.

Some 153 bodies, 59 of them children, have been exhumed from three graves at a house used by the cult in Buhunga, in Rukingere district, approximately 50km (30 miles) from the church in Kanungu where more than 400 cult members perished in a fire last Friday.

Police spokesman Assuman Mujenyi told the AFP news agency that some of the bodies found on Friday "had been suffocated using their clothes and others had been cut with sharp objects. They had been there about one or one and a half months".

It is a real tragedy. It's a disaster. The whole thing is diabolical

Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo
Local MP Jim Muhwezi had said earlier that he had been told by the security forces that the bodies at Buhunga, found under the floor of the house, did not look as if they had been buried recently.

"Some of them were buried a year or so ago. And some of the bodies in the first grave they found with ropes around their necks," he added.

Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo said he was shocked by the latest find. "It is a real tragedy," he said. "It's a disaster. The whole thing is diabolical."

Police will on Saturday intensify their search for more mass graves in south-west Uganda, as suspicions grow that leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God murdered their followers in last Friday's fire.

Initial reports from that incident suggested the cult members had used petrol to set themselves alight in a mass suicide.

However, recent investigations have indicated that the fire was started by bomb explosions at six places in the church, which had had its doors and windows nailed shut.

Police on Tuesday dug up the badly decomposed bodies of six men in a pit latrine in a house used by the cult's leaders.

A doctor at the scene said the men, who had been slashed with machetes and burned with acid, appeared to have been murdered before the blaze.

Police said they could have been killed to ensure their silence over the plans of the cult's leaders.

Joseph Kibweteere
Cult leader Joseph Kibwetere: whereabouts unknown
Friday's discovery of the mass graves has added weight to the police's suspicions that the cult members were victims of a mass murder rather than a mass suicide.

"We are treating the [church] deaths as murder apart from the leaders, who, if they perished, committed suicide because they knew what was going to happen," Eric Naigambi told AFP.

He said cult members may not have known what was going to happen to them as they entered the church. They believed the Virgin Mary was coming to get them, but may not have been aware of the plans to set the building alight.

Leaders vanished

The fate of the leaders remains unknown.

The body of one, Dominic Katirababwo, a former Catholic priest, was identified among the charred remains of the bodies by his telltale collar.

But the cult's chief, Joseph Kibwetere, and his principal prophetess, Credonia Mwerinde may have escaped, cult survivors have said.

A 17-year old cult member told officials he had seen the pair fleeing the church grounds clutching small bags early on Friday.

Police are also trying to establish what happened to the money raised by the cult before the fire.

Members had been instructed to sell all their belongings in the days preceding their deaths, and had paid off all their debts.

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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 Mar 00 | Media reports
Ugandan cult member's warning
23 Nov 99 | Africa
Ugandan millennium cult smashed
22 Mar 00 | Africa
Bombs blamed for cult deaths
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