Ugandan human rights group issues report on the deaths of more than 700 cult members

KAMPALA, Uganda - The two main leaders of more than 700 cult members who died in what police say were mass killings are probably dead themselves, the state-run Ugandan Human Rights Commission said.

The commission report, issued Monday, also called for an investigation into the cult leaders' relationship with two local officials.

It said police should investigate the former resident district commissioner and his assistant to learn what the men knew about the Movement for the Restoration of God, a cult that police now say was a scam to steal from its members.

The 85-page report said 444 bodies have been exhumed from the cult's branches around the country and the homes of their leaders. At least 330 other people were killed in a church fire in Kanungu on March 17, 2000, but police say that many other bodies were probably reduced to ash in the fire.

Police have said they believe cult leaders first killed dissidents at branch churches and then later gathered followers in the Kanungu church, nailed the doors shut and set it on fire. The government has never released a final report on its investigation.

The commission said the cult was led by a former prostitute, Cledonia Mwerinde, who recruited and became lovers with Joseph Kibwetere, who was later recognized as the cult's leader. The commission said it's investigation suggests Mwerinde died in the church fire and that she may have killed Kibwetere in 1999 fearing that he had AIDS.

"Some people who had left the camp say that Kibwetere and Mwerinde had a love affair and that Kibwetere may have been killed by Mwerinde after suspecting Kibwetere of having HIV/AIDS or he could have naturally died of AIDS," the report said.

Leaders of the cult made members work like animals, starved them and made them sell all their belongings in anticipation of doomsday and "going to heaven," the report said. Mwerinde probably led the victims of the Kanungu fire into the church on March 17 because growing discontent within the cult meant "she would have been killed if she had not killed herself."

Ugandan police still list Mwerinde and Kibwetere on their wanted list, along with defrocked catholic priest Dominic Kataribaabo, Joseph Kasapuraari and Ursula Komuhangi, cult leaders suspected of organizing the mass killing.