South grieves for leader Garang

NEW SITE (AFP) — Southern Sudan grieved Tuesday for the loss of ex-rebel leader John Garang who personified the region’s struggle against Khartoum before turning his sights on peace and negotiating a landmark deal to end Africa’s longest-running civil war.
As mourners filed by a simple table where his body lay in a coffin beneath the flag of his former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), Garang’s colleagues said he would be buried Saturday in Juba, which he chose as the capital of an autonomous southern Sudan.

“The burial of our great leader will be in Juba on Saturday, the 6th of August,” SPLM/A Spokesman Pagan Amum said here where Garang’s remains were brought after they were recovered from the wreckage of a crashed Ugandan helicopter.

“Juba is the site of the government of southern Sudan, the capital,” he told reporters, explaining the choice. “We will invite our friends in the region and in the world to be with us.”

It was not immediately clear which foreign dignitaries would attend the noon (0900 GMT) service but Amum said that Garang’s body would first be taken on a tour of southern Sudanese towns on Friday before it arrives in Juba.

The time and location of the ceremony was adopted in accordance with the wishes of the family and the SPLM/A leadership which on Monday nominated Garang’s longtime deputy Silva Kiir to assume his duties.

Kiir will take over as first vice president of Sudan and president of autonomous southern Sudan, positions Garang had been sworn in to under the terms of the January peace pact with Khartoum just three weeks before he died on Saturday. A delegation from Khartoum paid a brief visit to New Site on Tuesday to express condolences for Garang’s death from Sudanese President Omar Beshir and reiterate the government’s commitment to following through on the deal in his absence.

“We came to New Site to bring deep condolences to the (SPLM/A) leadership … for the tragic death,” said Ali Nfea, Sudan’s minister of federal affairs. “We are here to say that we are going to work together with the leadership of the SPLM.”

“We are determined to work together in partnership with the SPLM … with the new leader of the SPLM,” he told reporters, adding that he believed Garang’s ex-rebel group shared those sentiments.

“I found them united and determined more than any time before to achieve the peace and implement the agreement,” Nfea said before returning to the capital which was rocked by deadly violence on Monday after Garang’s death was confirmed.

As he and Amum spoke, dozens of mourners joined Garang’s widow, Rebecca, in grief, singing prayers with her under a large tent erected in the shade of a tree at the SPLM/A’s base in New Site.

A condolence book inscribed with words of sadness and vows for the future sat on a table outside a small house that has been converted into a quasi-mortuary and chapel where Garang’s body lies.

“All the people of Sudan will carry him and his family and his vision in our heart forever,” wrote Bishop Taban Parede of the southern Sudanese diocese of Torit.

“A great leader,” wrote Garrey Idri, the director of the Nile Bank in Rumbek, the dusty town that is serving as the temporary capital of southern Sudan until Khartoum’s troops withdraw from Juba as called for by the deal.

“We shall continue from where he left us,” he wrote.

“I have known him for the whole period of the 22-year struggle as a straightforward leader of the movement,” wrote Reverend Clement Janda. “His departure is a great blow to the vision of the movement.”

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