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Quiet mourning for Garang in south Sudan bush

August 2, 2005

By Katie Nguyen

NEW SITE, Sudan (Reuters) – In a silent, single file,
mourners came to view the casket of Sudan’s Vice-President John
Garang on Tuesday, paying final tribute to the former rebel
leader credited with delivering an historic African peace deal.

Led by his widow Rebecca, dozens of grieving relatives sang
hymns and prayed aloud over the coffin containing Garang’s
body, retrieved from a remote mountainside close to the Ugandan
border where his helicopter crashed at the weekend.

The corpse was brought to New Site, a small settlement in
the bush of southern Sudan where the Sudan People’s Liberation
Army/Movement (SPLA/M) endorsed Salva Kiir as their new leader
on Monday, closing the political vacuum left by Garang’s death.

The quiet, sober mood in New Site was in stark contrast to
the clamour of supporters chanting Garang’s name in the capital
Khartoum three weeks ago, when he was sworn in to a government
borne out of a peace deal to end 21 years of war.

“Dr Garang is our light. I will miss him forever,” said
Gabriel Chol, one of Garang’s nephews.

“He was a good man. He brought us up with dignity, he gave
dignity to the black people,” the 36 year-old said.

Like many men of his generation, Chol enlisted in the rebel
SPLA lured by Garang’s pledge to fight the Islamist, northern
Khartoum government for greater autonomy for the neglected,
impoverished south.

Some two million people died in the war that started in
1983, with millions more fleeing to neighboring countries.

“HE HAS GONE”

With its brick buildings, generator-powered electricity,
newly-installed Internet and running water, New Site stands out
from the rest of the underdeveloped south.

Garang was en route to this bush settlement after visiting
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, when the Ugandan army
helicopter that was carrying him crashed and burned in the
intense flames that followed.

In the spacious compound, soldiers in green fatigues sat
and waited under shady thorn trees as SPLA leaders — greeting
each other with a tap on the right shoulder — discussed
strategy.

Murmuring in a mixture of Garang’s native Dinka and
English, a priest prayed that Kiir would ensure the peace deal
signed on Jan. 9 would be implemented.

As Garang’s widow listened, resting her hand on his casket,
scented charcoal burned below to disguise any odor from the
body that some witnesses say was split into fragments from the
impact of the crash.

In a steady voice, she chided weeping relatives, saying:
“He has gone and you should accept.”

Recalling the early days of her marriage to the renegade
colonel, she remembered long years of separation.

“When the movement started I cried for three years, but
then I thought it over and his vision became my life,” she
said, flanked by three of her six children.




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