Sudan: Calm returns to Khartoum after days of violence

By Noel King

Khartoum, 04 August 2005 -

Khartoum is calm after days of rioting following the death of Vice President John Garang. At least 130 people were killed and more than 350 injured in the rioting.

The government took steps Thursday to insure that Khartoum and the rest of the country remains calm. President Omar al Bashir issued a decree ratifying the appointment of Salva Kiir Mayardit to succeed John Garang as vice president of the Republic of Sudan and president of the government of South Sudan.

The capital is still subject to a curfew, beginning at six pm. SUNA, the government-run news agency, reported that schools would be closed until Monday, and that Saturday would be a day off for citizens to "follow the funeral" of John Garang.

But the city is still tense and rumors spread quickly. On Wednesday, there were reports that a Sudanese militia leader, Paulino Mattip, had been killed. The reports proved false, but police checkpoints were reinstated and residents hurried to their rooftops to survey the scene.

The violence in Khartoum began Monday as angry southern Sudanese rioted after hearing reports that John Garang, first vice president of Sudan and former leader of the SPLM, the southern rebel movement, had died in a helicopter crash.

United Nation's officials have joined northern and southern Sudanese leaders in urging calm. U.N. Special Representative Jan Pronk expressed concern that this week's unrest could threaten the peace agreement between north and south Sudan. He called on young people, who have been at the center of the rioting, to restrain themselves.

"Of course, it's risky," he said. "That's why people should understand. Those people who were pleased with the peace, by not behaving, are endangering the very thing they were pleased with. It is so unwise to kill your frustration on a building. To burn down a church. To burn down a mosque. It is unwise. It is not responsible. It is immature. And of course that will result in retaliation."

Mr. Pronk said there was no reason to assume that there would be a delay in the formation of the new Sudanese government. The date for implementation of the new government was set for August 9. He added that he expects the peace agreement to weather the storm.

The SPLM, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement has called for an investigation into Mr. Garang's death. The governments of Uganda and Sudan, along with the UN and SPLM will conduct the investigation. All parties deny that the investigation is anything more than a formality. Mr. Pronk says he does not think foul play was a factor in Mr. Garang's death.

Commander Adam Abdel Aziz, a member of the SPLM leadership council, told VOA that the SPLM believes the crash was an accident.

"An investigation is a normal thing in any air accident or plane crash," he said. "People usually investigate to find the reasons behind that. But in the SPLM/SPLA, so far we know that it was a normal accident."

Mr. Abdel Aziz said the SPLM is working to contain rumors that Mr. Garang's death came as a result of foul play. Although people have divided along north-south lines, he expects the peace agreement to hold.

But while Sudanese and UN officials are optimistic about peace, Sudanese civilians say outreach is necessary to end violence at the grassroots level. Justin Ding, a southern Sudanese aid worker, says more effort is needed.

"Yeah, the leadership is there," he said. "But if they don't make peace within the people themselves... They should look into putting peace between the people, not at the top level just doing politics. It won't help at all."

Mr. Garang's funeral will take place in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba. Reuters has reported that his body was flown around the south of Sudan Thursday for Sudanese to pay their last respects. The United States has sent two senior envoys to Sudan to talk with Sudanese leaders about maintaining the peace process.