- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

JUBA, Sudan — Huge crowds of grieving Sudanese bade a final farewell yesterday to the late ex-rebel chief John Garang, who led southern Sudan through two decades of war before becoming first vice president in a landmark peace deal.

As tens of thousands of weeping, wailing black-clad mourners thronged the south’s main city for his funeral, appeals for unity resounded amid fears for the collapse of the January deal that ended Sudan’s 21 years of north-south conflict.

With gestures laden with symbols of reconciliation between the country’s Muslim north and mainly Christian and animist south, Mr. Garang was eulogized as a man of strength and peace in an open-air service at Juba’s All Saints Cathedral.

Mr. Garang’s longtime nemesis, Sudanese President Omar Bashir, his widow, and his successor as head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) urged respect for the peace accord to honor the guerrilla leader-turned-statesman.

Before the massive crowd sweltering under a blazing sun outside the church, Mr. Bashir took the hand of new SPLM leader Salva Kiir in a sign of solidarity and vowed that Khartoum would not back away from the pact.

“We will be strong and together,” Mr. Bashir said to applause from the gathering. “We say to our brother, Salva Kiir, that we will remain hand-in-hand to apply the peace agreement to the letter.”

Mr. Kiir, who will soon assume the first vice presidency that Mr. Garang, a 60-year-old U.S.-educated agronomist, had been sworn into just three weeks before his death in a helicopter crash, echoed those sentiments.

“I say it loud and clear that the SPLM is a vehicle with no reverse gear,” Mr. Kiir said. “I reiterate my commitment to the implementation of all the clauses of the [peace deal].”

Mr. Garang’s widow, Rebecca, said her husband’s legacy would be best honored by peace and told the crowd she need not be consoled if the settlement, known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), was respected.

“I will not miss my husband as long the people of Sudan are the watchdogs of the CPA,” she said. “If you play around, I will start to cry and mourn my husband.”

“Leaders come and go, but what they leave behind is very important,” she said. “I want the CPA to be implemented as it is, no changes.”

As the service continued, dozens of distraught women outside the cathedral fainted in the blistering heat that held until a heavy downpour hit Juba shortly after Mr. Garang was interred in a hastily built hilltop mausoleum nearby.

Female choir members burst into tears as they sang hymns, while the area around the church seethed with grieving residents of southern Sudan, which under the peace deal will enjoy six years of autonomy before holding a referendum on secession.

“This is the worst tragedy in southern Sudan. We are saddened by the death of our leader. It will never be the same again in this part of the world,” mourner Denis Lado said.

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