- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Ugandan and Sudanese forces today searched for a missing helicopter carrying Sudan’s vice president, a former rebel leader who is a key figure in a fledgling peace deal between the predominantly Arab Muslim government and the Christian south.

John Garang’s helicopter crashed in bad weather in Uganda near the Sudan border, Uganda’s president said.

Mr. Garang’s absence would be a heavy blow to the January peace deal that ended a 21-year civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, in which an estimated 2 million people died.

The 60-year-old former rebel, who was sworn in as vice president three weeks ago, left on a flight from Uganda for southern Sudan at 5:30 p.m. Ugandan time Saturday afternoon, Sudanese and Ugandan officials said. It was not clear when the last contact with his craft occurred.

His helicopter had attempted to land in the New Kush region of southern Sudan, but aborted the landing because of bad weather and headed back south, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said. Weather reports showed rain in the area.

The craft was heard near Pirre, a mountainous region near the Kenyan and Sudanese borders on the edge of a large national park, and was believed to have crash-landed, Mr. Museveni said. He added that the Kenyans had been asked to help in the search.

From Sudan, there were wildly contradictory reports over the disappearance, although there was no word of foul play.

Sudanese state television reported yesterday night that Mr. Garang’s craft had landed safely, but Communications Minister Abdel-Basit Sabdarat went on TV hours later to deny the report. “Up to now, we do not have any concrete new information about the whereabouts” of Mr. Garang’s flight, he said.

Mr. Garang, who earned a doctorate from Iowa State University, led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the war between the Muslim north and the mainly Christian and animist south.

The settlement made Mr. Garang first vice president of Sudan as well as president of southern Sudan, letting him set up an interim administration there until a referendum in six years on secession.

President Omar Bashir saw Mr. Garang as an important partner in sealing the peace, ensuring that the south does not secede, and in repairing Sudan’s international reputation. With a speed stunning to many in Sudan, the Sudanese state press went from describing Mr. Garang in the darkest terms to calling him “Dr. Garang” after the peace deal was struck.

His flight’s disappearance brought up the shadows of the 1994 downing of the airplane of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, who had been trying to implement a power-sharing deal between his fellow Hutus and the rival Tutsis. His death opened the doors to the Rwandan genocide, in which more than 500,000 people were killed.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide