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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK

World: Americas

Doomsday cultists vanish

Up to 60 members of a Colombian doomsday cult have gone missing in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in Northern Colombia.

[ image:  ]
They were due for an alleged rendezvous with a spaceship, and nothing has been heard of them since the weekend, despite a continuing police search.

The members of the Stella Maris Gnostic church were hoping to be carried off by extraterrestrial beings before what they believe will be the imminent end of the world at the turn of the Millennium.

Police checked the sect's half-finished temple in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, but found no clue as to where the cult has gone or what their intentions were.

Mariela Tovar, whose 23-year-old daughter Patricia is among the disappeared, said the group's failure to return prompted worried relatives to contact the police.

The head of the sect apparently assured followers that the Sierra Nevada - a sacred territory to indigenous Indians - was where they could contact a spaceship.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports on the beliefs of the cult
According to their interpretation of the Bible, the sect believes that extraterrestrials will take 140,000 people from the earth before the end of the world - a sort of second Noah's Ark.

The authorities have not discounted any theory about the disappearances and are exploring the possibilities of a mass suicide, mass kidnapping or a lift from a passing UFO.

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