Sudan: New VP killed in chopper crash —quick end to peace deal feared

Riots and gunfire are reported in Sudan’s capital Khartoum following the death of the country’s vice-president, former rebel leader John Garang, in a helicopter crash as he was returning from Uganda. Garang had signed a deal to end 21 years of civil war in January and was sworn in as vice-president three weeks ago. Roadblocks have been set up and access to the airport has been cut off; there is a heavy military presence on the streets, while burning cars are sending plumes of smoke over the city. There are also reports of unrest elsewhere in Sudan.

President Omar al-Bashir said, “We are confident that the peace agreement will proceed as it was planned and drawn up.” But Garang supporters, mostly from Sudan’s south, are protesting in the capital. Three days of national mourning have been declared.

Garang was returning to his base in New Site in southern Sudan after flying to Uganda to meet President Yoweri Museveni. Six of his associates and the seven-member crew of the Mi-72 Ugandan presidential helicopter also died in the crash, which is being blamed on bad weather. Garang’s deputy in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Salva Kiir Mayardit, will take control of the guerilla army, the SPLM said. Mayardit said the SPLM remained committed to the peace agreement and urged all Sudanese to remain calm. SPLM officials stressed that Garang’s death had been an accident.

The mediator in the long-running Sudanese peace talks, Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said it was clear from the peace agreement that whoever became SPLM leader would also take over as Sudan’s vice-president. Garang’s widow, Rebecca, told the BBC that the people of Sudan should carry on with his vision. (BBC, Aug. 1)

See our last post on Sudan.