John Garang II: PeaceReporter on the Scene in Khartoum
Tonight's story is relayed from Gianluca Ursini via La Repubblica.
After Garang's death, looting in the capital.
This has been a day of clashes in the public squares of the Sudanese capital following the news of the death of John Garang, Sudanese Vice President and rebel leader of the Christian south. The charismatic ex-soldier died as he was returning by helicopter to Sudan from Kampala, Uganda, where he was on an official visit for talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. At this hour in Khartoum, a open-ended curfew has been declared by local police officials. There were seven confirmed deaths after clashes in a public market. Many Arab-owned shops were vandalized and looted by crowds. The Arabs were the dominant ethnicity until the peace accords of last December. Former rebels who had come up from the South were responsible for the chaos today. At 17:00 local time calm was restored in most of the city, with the exception of quarters in the north of Khartoum which have been declared off-limits. There is an information blackout from this area.
According to a communiqué issued by Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, The aircraft in which John Garang was travelling crashed in the Amatonji moutains after losing altitude during a sandstorm. There were 13 others accompanying Garang at the time of the crash. Following the takeoff at 15:30 from Kampala, the helicopter was expected to land in Sudan at 19:00. The leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement was heading to the southern airport of New Site, where Garang's residence was located. When Garang's death was announced his morning in Khartoum, there were several disturbances caused by southerners. A communiqué issued by the Southern Independence Movement urged Sudanese to "stay calm", stating that the crash was an accident. According to a peace negotiator in Abuja, Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, there is no doubt that whoever assumes the leadership of the SPLM will automatically become Sudanese Vice President and will guarantee the peace process in Sudan's southern regions. Salva Kiir Mayardit, a lieutenant of Garang, is expected to take command of the SPLM.
Peace Reporter has contacted an Italian aid worker in Khartoum who wishes to remain anonymous. This is his narrative.
This morning it was confirmed that the crash site of John Garang's helicopter was located. News began to spread among the populace because the refugee camps have plenty of radios. Most southerners had no details on what happened. People began to gradually assemble at several points in the center of the city where government buildings are located and then in areas densely populated by southerners. They began to throw stones at passing cars along the main avenues of the capital. It the stone-throwing spread to the side streets. We have an office in Namura, near the center of the protests. Normally things are very calm but it is an area surrounded by neighborhoods inhabited by southerners. We told our staff to leave because the disturbances would continue into the night. In Khartoum there are many locations which sell alcohol. Once the protesters start to drink, they begin to do as they please. After deciding to leave our quarter, we thought we would move to the more peaceful Riad quarter. But to move we had to traverse a dense crowd of stone-throwers and stones were thrown at our car. These are people with no political agenda, only a desire to take revenge for their poor living conditions. You can hear them laugh. They're going around with shovels and spades; they want to demolish whatever stands in their way....John Garang was born in 1945 in a Dinka village into a well-off Christian family. After advanced studies in Tanzania**, John Garang went to Grinnel College in Iowa where he earned a PhD in the Agricultural Economics.* He also received military training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was sent by the government of Khartoum to put down a rebellion by the southern AnyaAnya tribe in 1962. Ten years later peace was achieved but in 1978 the discovery of petroleum led to a general uprising of the southern tribes--both animist and Christian. Garang was dispatched to put down this rebellion in 1983. Garang vowed he would not return without a armistice signed by rebel leaders. He barely entered rebel territory when he rounded up the dispersed rebels and brought them to Ethiopia where he founded the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and its political wing, the Sudan's People Liberation Movement); in 1986, his army numbered 12,500; by 1989 it more than 20 thousand. In 1991, his forces numbered between 50 and 60 thousand.
"What we're seeing is unadulterated resentment", said an SPLA soldier. This makes people want to smash things up, and that's it. Even though they are throwing stones at traffic, they've made no attempt to stop any cars or to force people out. They don't want to kill anyone. All they want to do is smash and loot. Twenty minutes ago there was a column of smoke rising from cars set ablaze. Now there is quiet, including here in the Riad district. But we see smoke rising from the airport and people are still throwing stones around town. The government is deploying police. I've seen brigades of police with fixed bayonettes. Police are being deployed discretely to avoid riots. However, there are 1 million southerners in refugee camps outside town. If the protesters stir up the camps, there will be problems.
All public transportation has been shut down and immobilized. People must get around by foot. The refugee camps are 15 miles from the center of town. All residents of the city must walk to reach their homes or to do an errand. There are no taxis. The city is closed down. We are spending the night in Riad since it was unadvisable to start out for our homes. Between our present location and our homes, there are acres of vacant lots where shanties have been constructed by the refugees and where alcohol is distilled. When Garang was inaugurated Vice President, our home was invaded by a dozen drunken men who pushed the security guards out of their way and entered our compound. They began to dance and were not behaving aggressively. But then they began to pester us for money to buy alcohol. We told them "no" and that infuriated them but luckily they were chased outdoors by some men. This morning some men came by saying they would loot and burn our offices so we moved to a safer location.
Last December the first peace accords were hammered out in Nigeria after a ceasefire earlier in the year. On July 9, 2005, John Garang was inaugurated Vice President (there are more than one) and shortly thereafter dissolved the Legislative Council, the Executive and the Politburo of the SPLM, replacing them with ten governors to administer the rebel provinces ad interim. According to the peace accords, the South was to enjoy full autonomy for six years, to be followed by a referendum on independence from Khartoum. [Wasn't this the disaster recipe for Kashmir, BTW?--Nur]
*Ursini is incorrect on Garang's academic background. See Wikipedia link in next post.
**The Christian missionaries in southern Sudan provided free elementary education to village children and secondary education to gifted students. From what I've read, Sudan used to recruit its civil servants from the ranks of the Christian-educated. I believe Garang's studies in Tanzania correspond to a civil service and teaching "prep school".