Ugandan cult mass grave found

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The Independent Online

The bodies of 153 sect members have been found strangled and hacked to death in a mass grave in western Uganda near a church where hundreds perished in a fire, police said.

The bodies of 153 sect members have been found strangled and hacked to death in a mass grave in western Uganda near a church where hundreds perished in a fire, police said.

The bodies, which included 59 children, were discovered as police continue to investigate the deaths of at least 330 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, who were burned alive in a sect compound in Kanungu, 30 kilometers (19 miles) away in remote southwestern Uganda.

The bodies found Friday near the town of Rukungiri appeared to have been buried up to six weeks ago.

Police said they were now treating all the deaths as mass murder.

They were initially treating the deaths of the adults killed in Kanungu, 217 miles southwest of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, as suicide and those under 18 as murder victims.

Police found the mass grave in an abandoned house while looking for a sect branch. After they had been examined by pathologists, the bodies were reburied in two mass graves.

A spokesman said police were continuing to investigate other districts where the sect was believed to have branches. He said the group had branches in at least four districts and members from nine.

The spokesman said it was still not known if the leaders were among the dead in Kanungu. If they were still alive they had probably left Uganda, he said.

The March 17 fire in Kanungu was set at a makeshift church belonging to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. The estimated death toll in the blaze has ranged from 150 to 600, and the cause has been attributed to gasoline, a bomb or both. There have been conflicting reports about the willingness of some sect members to commit suicide.

Minister of State for Regional Cooperation Amama Mbabazi, who visited Kanungu on Wednesday, said two top sect leaders may not have died in the inferno as had been believed.

Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, and Joseph Kibweteere, 68, who was also known as the prophet, may both have left the compound before the fire.

Mbabazi said a 17-year-old cult member who had slipped away from the church before the fire said Kibweteere was not there at the time. The minister said some local residents had also reported seeing Mwerinde leave the compound.

Police initially said all the group's leaders had died, but officials said later that only two leaders' bodies had been positively identified - the manager of the sect's farm and "a priest." A number of the group's leaders were former Roman Catholic priests, lay workers and nuns.

Uganda's ill-funded and under-trained police force has been overwhelmed by the investigation, and many questin 1,000 and 5,000 in nine districts in Uganda, a country of 21 million. It was a legally registered as a non-governmental organisation.

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