Thousands in Sudan grieve as First Vice President Garang is buried

Suspicions of foul play fueled rioting days earlier

August 07, 2005|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JUBA, Sudan - John Garang, the rebel-turned-peacemaker who led southern Sudan in a 21-year civil war, was laid to rest here yesterday amid an outpouring of grief but without the deadly violence that had rocked the African nation earlier in the week.

Garang was killed July 30 in a helicopter crash in the mountains of southern Sudan, less than a month after being inaugurated as Sudan's first vice president. In subsequent days, at least 130 people were killed in rioting fueled by suspicions that he had been a victim of foul play.

Garang was eulogized yesterday as a Moses-like figure who liberated disenfranchised Sudanese but did not live to see the fruits of his struggle.

"As sure as day follows night, the torch he has kindled shall not be extinguished. Not under my command," said Garang's deputy, Salva Keer, who took over as head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

Garang, 60, had taken office July 9 under a landmark power-sharing agreement with the Islamist regime in Khartoum. Keer, the last surviving founding father of the SPLM, is expected to be sworn in as vice president today.

Several thousand mourners lined streets and flooded the courtyard of All Saints Cathedral in Juba, a government-controlled regional capital that Garang had several times attempted to invade during his rebellion.

"It's ironic. He finally took Juba," said Danny Effie, publisher of the Sudan Mirror newspaper and a friend of Garang.

Sadness gripped the city, with mourners standing along hot, dusty roads to pay their respects as the procession of cars and trucks passed.

Members of a black-clad church choir were barely able to sing, their voices cracking with emotion and tears streaming down their faces during a specially written ode to Garang.

"It was not his time to die," said Agnes Lion, 21, choking back tears as Garang's coffin was brought to the burial site. "He was a man of justice, equality and unity. He did not want the Sudan people to be divided. We are one family."

The calm and talk of unity was in stark contrast to the nationwide spasm of rioting and looting that followed news of Garang's death. Many young southern men suspected that the crash was not an accident and began taking out their anger on Arab-owned businesses.

Nearly a dozen were killed in Juba, and hundreds of Arabs fled the city before the funeral.

Yesterday, government soldiers with rifles stood guard at the airport and peered down at the funeral service from church towers.

Tensions had mounted a day earlier when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told a crowd of mourners that the helicopter crash could have been caused by an "external factor," which many took as a suggestion that the crash was not accidental.

But Sudanese and SPLM officials, along with Garang's widow, have said it appears that the helicopter crashed into a mountaintop while attempting an emergency landing in bad weather.

Sudan President Omar el-Beshir has launched an internationally supervised inquiry into the incident. He vowed not to let violence derail the peace process.

"We say to our brother Salva Keer that we will remain hand-in-hand to apply the peace agreement to the letter," the Sudanese president said.

In a symbolic gesture at the end of his eulogy, Beshir grasped Keer's hand in his own and lifted them over their heads. The image was reminiscent of last month's inauguration, when the charismatic Garang made the same triumphant gesture with Beshir.

Among the African dignitaries in attendance were South African President Thabo Mbeki and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper

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