Prayers for victims of cult as toll passes 1,000

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On a green hilltop overlooking the place where more than half the victims of the world's most murderous cult are buried, 1,000 people gathered yesterday to pray for them and to try to make sense of the tragedy. Among the worshippers were Theresa Kibwetere, who had refused to join the cult her husband Joseph founded, and their two daughters.

Uganda's Vice-President, Speciosa Wandire Kazibwe, said the death of some 600 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in a burning church near by was first thought to be a mass suicide. Now, she said, there was "overwhelming evidence" that what happened at Kanungu and other locations were "callous, well-orchestrated mass murders, perpetrated by a network of diabolical, malevolent criminals masquerading as holy and religious people".

The Vice President said the total number of dead at Kanungu and other sites will surpass 1,000, well in excess of the number of cultists who committed suicide at Jonestown in Guyana in 1978. Dr Kazibwe apologised on behalf of the Ugandan government for the fact that the Ten Commandments cult's activities had "escaped the scrutiny" of senior officials. Those at a lower level who failed to pass on information or take action would be punished, she said.

Uganda's Joint Christian Councilpledged more help for "the vulnerable - the uneducated, women and children", who made up the majority of the cult's victims.

Although Dr Kazibwe said efforts were being stepped up to find the cult's leaders, none has been arrested. Whether they died in the blazing church is unlikely to be known for some time. The Roman Catholic archbishop of western Uganda, Paul Bakyenga, said: "I am not convinced Joseph Kibwetere is dead."