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Sudan: August 15, 2005

Was Sudan Leader John Garang's Death an Accident?

John_Garang.jpgAfter three weeks as Sudan's First Vice-President, John Garang was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Sudan on his way back from Uganda. After a barrage of misinformation, initial reports blamed the weather or mechanical failure for the incident.

For those who are unaware, Garang has been instrumental in freeing the southern Sudanese people from the encroaching tyranny of the Islamic north and managed to survive and succeed in a 21-year conflict that pitted the ill-equipped Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) against the more powerful National Islamic Front (NIF) controlled Government of Sudan with its Chinese benefactors.

Although Garang is often referred to as a "rebel leader", it was the NIF that seized power from a democratically elected government in a 1989 military coup, deliberately aborting Sudan's most promising peace process since independence in 1956.

During the war, Garang allowed Christian missionaries to provide relief to the people of southern Sudan while the Islamic government of the north bombed hospitals, churches and schools and targeted particular ethnic groups for extinction. The NIF's legacy of genocide continues in the Sudan province of Darfur where over 400,000 people have died.

Garang was a critical element in the peace process which lead to the signing of an accord between North and South earlier this year. Despite the NIF's unchanged policies and continued rule in the North, many hoped that Garang, as Sudan’s First Vice President in the power-sharing agreement, would work to end Sudan’s conflict in Darfur.

Garang’s death was a blow to the people of Sudan and to those in northern Uganda who would have benefited from his promised clamp down on the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army that terrorized the region.

I have to wonder whether or not Garang’s death an accident? He somehow survived a 21-year civil war but, when peace came, died in an aircraft mishap? I'm suspicious. And, so are others.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for the first time has publicly stated that the "accident" may not be what it seems. "Some people say accident, it may be an accident, it may be something else," he told Garang mourners.

"But I assure you that if the investigation finds that it was a result of foul play, the perpetrators will pay," Museveni was quoted as saying in another report. He said SPLA, Ugandan, US, Russian and Kenyan investigators visited the crash site, inspected the bodies and recovered the black box. He said former army commander Maj. Gen. James Kazini oversees the Ugandan team.

Museveni also announced the formation of a panel of three experts to probe the accident that claimed Garang's life. "We have also approached a certain foreign government to rule out any form of sabotage or terrorism," he said. [IRIN News http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/KHII-6EW8G7?OpenDocument]

Ironically, although Museveni was reportedly a long-time friend and ally of Garang, some suggest that negligence on his part and other Ugandan official contributed to Garang's tragic demise. Ugandan parliamentarian Aggrey Awori told reporter William Eagle that the Ugandan government does not seem to have followed proper procedures with regard to the doomed flight.

"They took off after hours, definitely. According to CAA regulations, no rotor aircraft, [like a] helicopter, can take off after 5 pm for any destination lasting more than one hour," he explained. And Awori said Museveni should have advised his Garang to stay in Kampala, or to cut short their mid-afternoon meeting so Mr. Garang could arrive home before nightfall.

Museveni also shut down a popular FM radio station after it aired a program discussing theories about the crash, including some that blamed the Ugandan government.

Sudan authority Eric Reeves in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI) stated there may be more to the story than meets the eye. "There's a clear possibility that sabotage was involved," Reeves said, noting how the SPLA wants a full investigation on Saturday's crash before making any announcement on the allegations.

UPI reported that a senior aide to Garang is requesting an investigation.

Deng Alor, a senior member of Garang`s rebel movement, the Sudan People`s Liberation Army/Movement, refused to say if the plane crash was accidental or the result of a sabotage.

"We do not rule out any possibility, and that is why we are asking for an investigation," Alor told UPI in a telephone interview from southern Sudan.

CNS News notes the potential link and subsequent speculation regarding the LRA:
Although no reports have suggested foul play in the crash, speculation will likely arise in the days ahead that a notorious Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), may have shot down the helicopter.

Operating from bases in southern Sudan -- allegedly with past support from Khartoum -- the LRA has for some 18 years been fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government. It is notorious for vicious tactics including the abduction of thousands of children forced to become soldiers or concubines for rebels.

A joint commission between the northern Sudanese government and Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was formed to investigate the causes of the crash and officials have said they welcome any input from the U.N. or other international experts. Considering that northern Sudan has a terrible track record full of human rights violations and would certainly welcome the demise of the SPLM, it is incumbent upon those overseeing the peace process to provide "input" and, even better, accountability.

In addition, there are also powerful international forces vying for influence in this oil rich country of Sudan.

While there exists speculation tied to the vested interest of certain governments and groups to silence Garang the reality is that no evidence has been reported to the outside world that would substantiate any claim of foul play. As I mentioned, I'm suspicious but only because of the unusual timing of the crash, the inherent corruption of the Sudanese government and the numerous individuals and groups who had motivation to assasinate Garang.

Eric Reeve writes,

The NIF will continue to sustain genocide by attrition in Darfur, even as it welcomes the destabilizing possibilities presented by the death of John Garang. The new leader of the SPLM, Salva Kiir Mayardit, will face severe testing, with all too many possible venues in the south and in Khartoum for such trial. As the authoritative “Africa Confidential” observes in its August 5, 2005 edition:
“The [NIF] regime may not have caused the crash [that killed Garang] but could not have wished for more. It will redouble its efforts to deepen Southern divisions, convinced that Garang’s successors won’t withstand its mixture of military attack, disinformation, and financial inducements.” (“Africa Confidential,” Vol 46, No 16, August 5, 2005).
There were also signs, prior to Garang's death, that the National Congress Party [the ruling faction of the National Islamic Front] was seeking to undercut implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement through its uses of the militias (the South Sudan Defence Forces), bribery, and through the tactics of divide and rule. [ICG, July 25, 2005]

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Posted by tim at August 15, 2005 1:28 PM




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