JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Angolan police and opposition politicians are at odds over the exact number of people killed in a raid on a religious sect that believes the world will end in 2015.
Angola's main opposition party, UNITA, has accused the police of killing 1,080 people when they raided the Seventh Day Light of the World Church in central Huambo province on Apr. 16.
Police say the number of fatalities is much lower, reporting that 13 civilians and nine policemen were killed during a raid that led to the arrest of the sect's leader Jose Julino Kalupeteka.
The civilians killed were the personal bodyguards of the sect's leader who clashed with police, Police Commissioner Paulo Gaspar de Almeida told the Angola Press Agency. The sect had also taken over army bases that belonged to UNITA, then a guerrilla army, during Angola's civil war that lasted nearly 27 years, according to provincial police commander Elias Livulo.
"I do not know where there was room to bury so many people," Livulo said, according to the Angolan newspaper Jornal de Angola. He challenged UNITA to prove the "serious allegations they made."
A team of UNITA members visited the area over three days to investigate the incident and reached its figure of how many were killed after meeting with citizens, civil society groups and government officials, according to a statement from UNITA's parliamentary leader, Raul Danda. The party also accused the police of barring journalists and observers from the scene.
In recent years, critical coverage of police and politicians from the ruling party has led to the imprisonment of some journalists, according to reports by press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Angola 123rd out of 180 countries.
Angolan law does not recognize religious groups with fewer than 100,000 followers, according to the Angola Press Agency, the official news service. The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola party accused the sect of acts of violence and instability.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos described the group, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, as a threat to peace, according to the Angola Press Agency. The sect's rule that followers should sell their property and live in Angola's mountains in anticipation of the world's end was "an attack on the life and well-being of people," said dos Santos.
He ordered Angola's Attorney General to use "in accordance with the law, the appropriate measures to put an end to illegal activities ... of the sect," reported the Angola Press Agency.