KHARTOUM, Sudan — Former rebel leader John Garang made a triumphant return to Khartoum yesterday, greeted as a brother by the president and as a pop star by hundreds of thousands of supporters hopeful for a new era after Africa’s longest civil war.
His arrival on a scorching summer’s day was a landmark step in a U.S.-backed January peace deal that requires Sudan’s Muslim-dominated northern-based regime to share power and wealth with long-marginalized southerners. Mr. Garang is to be sworn in to the government’s second-most-powerful post today.
A red-carpet greeting at Khartoum’s airport was followed by an official welcoming reception during which President Omar el-Bashir held his former enemy’s hand in the air and repeatedly called him “our brother.”
“You will find the hearts of all Sudanese open to you,” Mr. el-Bashir promised. “This war has stopped finally and forever.”
A smiling Mr. Garang was interrupted by ululating women and shouts of “Allahu akbar,” or God is great, and “Hallelujah” as he told the nearly 400 guests under a large tent at the ruling party headquarters that he was home among his people.
“I congratulate the Sudanese people. This is not my peace or the peace of el-Bashir, it is the peace of the Sudanese people,” Mr. Garang said.
Mr. Garang, a burly, bearded warrior from southern Sudan’s large Dinka tribe, was a key partner in peace negotiations that resulted in January’s agreement. The deal ended the 21-year civil war that left more than 2 million dead, mostly through war-induced famine.
Many in Khartoum welcomed Mr. Garang’s arrival as a prelude to better times and an end to long years of fighting. A new government is to be installed in August, giving hope for many of a better life in Africa’s largest country.
In a sign of unity, yesterday’s security arrangements were shared by the Sudanese Army and Mr. Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army, both of which guarded roadways and the perimeter of the city’s Green Square, where Mr. Garang made an appearance. Secret service units blended into the massive crowd.
Hundreds of thousands of people — mainly Sudanese from the country’s southern and western regions — who had been waiting up to six hours under blistering sunshine for Mr. Garang’s arrival screamed with joy when he stepped onto a stage. Mr. Garang waved and blew kisses, each one greeted with roars of approval by the throng that pressed closer to get a view.
“It’s a day of merriment, a day of joy,” grinned Marina Lako, 32. “The fact that Garang has come means to us the war has stopped. We, as women, we lost many of our beloved ones. So the end of the war means a lot to us. This is the day of the people.”
Many waved flags and wore pins in the black, white, red and green of the SPLA. Banners proclaimed “Peace for Darfur” — a region wrought by more than two years of conflict in Sudan’s west — and welcome messages for Mr. Garang. Tribal dancers and singers entertained the crowd before his arrival.