Sudan Violence Rages As Death Toll Hits 46
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
NAIROBI, Aug. 2 -- More violence erupted in Sudan's shaken capital Tuesday following the sudden death of ex-rebel leader John Garang, who was killed in a helicopter crash over the weekend soon after becoming vice president in a peace deal that many hoped would end the country's 21-year civil war.
The clashes have killed 46 people over two days, officials said, and echoed the ethnic and religious tensions that fueled the civil war between Sudan's Muslim north and the largely Christian and animist south. A separate conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region is continuing.
Plumes of smoke rose from burning cars, armored vehicles stood at crossroads and government helicopters flew over tense shantytowns outside the capital, Khartoum, news agencies and residents reported.
"Things are bad here. Arab gangs are going to neighborhoods and attacking people with swords and sticks. This is a retaliation from yesterday's riots," said Alfred Taban, publisher of the Khartoum Monitor, Sudan's only independent English-language newspaper. He spoke by telephone from Khartoum.
Garang's successor as head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Salva Kiir Mayardit, called for calm as he prepared to assume the post of vice president. In New Site, Garang's base village in southern Sudan, mourners viewed his body, covered with a rebel flag on a simple bed, and prepared for an elaborate traditional funeral Saturday.
In Khartoum, the day began quietly. But with the midday heat, observers reported, angry mobs of northern Sudanese youths lashed out against southern Sudanese in retaliation for rioting and looting Monday against northern-owned businesses and property. Officials said 36 people were killed and more than 100 injured in Monday's violence.
Southern Sudanese mobs burned cars and fired guns into the air Monday, venting their anger at Garang's death and accusing the government of plotting to kill him. His helicopter crashed on a rocky mountainside in bad weather a few miles from New Site as he was returning from an official visit to Uganda. There were no reports of foul play.
Kiir, making his first public appearance as the south's new leader, went on television and radio Tuesday, saying the country needed to chart a path forward and reaffirming that no foul play was involved in Garang's death.
Garang's widow, Rebecca, also reiterated calls for calm, saying, "It is just my husband who has died. His vision is alive," Reuters reported.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said there seemed to be an "orderly and peaceful succession process" so far in the vice presidential transition. "That is very positive," said the spokesman, Tom Casey. Two U.S. envoys were en route to Sudan to encourage a smooth transition, officials said.
Kiir is a longtime commander of southern rebel troops. He has little political experience but is outspoken and popular among the troops.
Garang was known as a dictatorial leader, which some analysts said was an asset in a rebel movement prone to split along ethnic lines. Kiir's style is more collegial, but some observers said that could be a disadvantage.
"It's definitely going to be a liability. . . . Many southern leaders are likely to challenge him because he is not as autocratic," said Taban, the publisher. But Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo, a Kenyan who helped mediate the peace talks in Kenya, was more optimistic, saying Kiir might prove to be a more open leader than Garang.
Garang was sworn in as vice president on July 8 under a U.S.-backed peace deal between the Arab-led government in Khartoum and the largely African rebel forces of the marginalized south, which had long fought for separation.
Now leaders said calm must be restored or everything could fall apart.
"We have to hope that these clashes die down and the country begins to mourn," said Telar Deng, a former leader of the New Sudan Council of Churches, speaking by telephone from Khartoum. "We all have wanted peace for a long time."
Garang will be buried in the main southern city, Juba. His body will first be taken to Rumbek and other major southern towns to allow mourners to pay their final respects before the state funeral in New Site.