Kenyan police have exhumed eight more bodies from land associated with the leader of a Christian cult, bringing the death toll to 235 as the government suspended the activity.
The temporary halt in exhumations will pave the way for authorities to carry out autopsies on 123 bodies that were unearthed from property belonging to Pastor Paul Mackenzie, who is accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves to death in the hope of meeting Jesus, and so they could go to heaven before the end of the world.
Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha, while providing the latest death toll at a daily media briefing on Thursday, that so far, the number of people reported missing by various families stands at 613.
Onyancha said the temporary break in exhumations until next Wednesday will enable pathologists to perform autopsies on the bodies recovered in the second phase.
Hundreds of bodies have been found at Shakahola Forest in Kilifi County since mid-April during investigations into the cult run by Mackenzie, who leads the Good News International Church in Kenya.
Alleged organ trafficking
An investigation launched last month has revealed that some of the victims had their organs missing, which has led to suspicions of trafficking in human organs.
But Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki has urged caution, telling reporters that "it is a theory we are investigating".
The grim saga has stunned Kenyans and led President William Ruto to set up a commission of inquiry into the deaths, as well as a task force to review regulations governing religious bodies.
Ezekiel Odero, a high-profile and wealthy televangelist, has been accused of links to Mackenzie and to the bodies found in the forest.