Nepal gets 'moonstruck' by cult leader

Kathmandu, Nepal - Controversial cult leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, arrives here Monday to pray for world peace.

Rev. Moon is visiting Nepal along with his wife Hak Ja Han to flag off his "World Peace Conference" in the Himalayan kingdom. The 85-year-old guru, hailed as the "Messiah" by his followers, heads the Unification Church founded by him in 1954.

His followers, dubbed "Moonies" by the American media, are active in South Korea, Japan, the US and Britain.

According to Moon's gospel, the mother of mankind, Eve, fell because she had sex with Lucifer or Satan. However, humanity will be redeemed by the arrival of a new Messiah, who will be born in Korea - in short, Rev Moon.

Born in Japan-occupied Korea, Moon converted to Christianity when he was 10-years-old. Subsequently Korea's communist government sent him to the infamous Heung-Nam labour camp, where prisoners were worked to death.

Though freed when the camp fell to UN troops in 1950, Moon was expelled from the Presbyterian church and formed his own organisation.

When he was 40 and a divorcee, he married Hak Ja, the teenaged daughter of the church cook, going on to have 14 children.

Moon went to the US in 1965 and got into trouble with the authorities.

The Moonies earned notoriety for their aggressive recruitment and were accused of brainwashing and breaking up families.

He served two stints in federal prisons and, in 2000, was barred admission to Britain. He has also been convicted in Japan, where Moonies are said to have defrauded thousands of believers, besides the European Union.

The late 1990s were especially damaging with Moon's former daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, publishing an explosive book, "In the Shadow of the Moons," describing husband Hyo Jin Moon's drugs and liquor addiction, wife beating and keeping company with prostitutes.

In October 1999, another of Moon's sons, Phillip Youngiin Moon, jumped to his death from the 17th floor of a hotel.

Moon kept a low profile for some time, re-emerging to court US President George W. Bush and buying the Washington Times daily.

On Nov 4, this year, he gained entry to London, where he kicked off the world peace conference that will be held in 100 cities across 67 countries.

After a ceremony at the Birendra International Convention Centre here, to be attended by leading Nepali politicians and representatives from the palace, Moon will proceed to the Indian capital New Delhi.

He is said to have about 10,000 followers in Nepal.