The number of victims of a "hunger sect" in the country's coastal region rose to more than 200 on Saturday. According to Kenyan media, the head of the regional authority, Rhoda Onyancha, said that 22 more victims had been exhumed on Saturday.

This means that the number of dead cult members is currently 201, mostly starved victims. Survivors were not found in the forest area of Shakahola near Malindi on Saturday.

More people reported missing

The total number of victims of the sect can still only be speculated, because new people are still being reported missing by relatives. On Saturday, the number of missing cult members had risen to 610.

With the arrest of another suspect, the number of detainees has risen to 26 – including the cult leader. He is currently in custody and had failed with an application for release on bail.

The self-proclaimed pastor, a former taxi driver, had already founded his church "Good News International Church" in 2003 and most recently lived isolated with his followers in the forest area. He is said to have urged the faithful to starve themselves to death in order to be close to Jesus.

On the instructions of the cult leader, his followers had broken off contact with their relatives, given up their work and no longer sent their children to school. Outsiders were therefore hardly aware of what was going on in the forest.

Exhumations to resume on Tuesday

About four weeks ago, the police had found severely malnourished people in critical condition in the forest area, which was later combed for mass graves.

The exhumations of the numerous mass graves in the forest are to be resumed on Tuesday, it said. The search for possible survivors, on the other hand, should continue on Sunday. The interruption of the excavations was justified by logistical requirements.

In view of the high number of deaths, the capacities in the morgue of the local hospital have long been exhausted. The Kenyan Red Cross had brought a refrigerated container to the region, in which the dead can initially be stored.

So far, DNA samples have been taken from 93 corpses for identification. In addition, the remains of 14 cult victims could be handed over to their families for burial, Onyancha said.

In the autopsies of the dead that had already been carried out, starvation had been determined as the cause of death in the majority of cases. But there were also children's corpses in which death by blunt force or suffocation is considered to be the cause.

In the Kenyan public, the case is now referred to as the "Shakahola Massacre". He has also started a discussion on stricter rules and minimum standards for the registration of religious communities. A commission commissioned by the government is to draw up recommendations within the next six months. The aim is to prevent the development of questionable sects as well as the spread of religious extremism.

In addition to the major denominations, around 4000 free church and evangelical churches are registered in the predominantly Christian East African country.