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Swiss mediator says Sudan should hold together

The situation is "very" tense in the Sudanese capital

(Keystone)

A Swiss mediator who was involved in talks between Sudan’s warring sides says peace should hold despite the unexpected death of a former rebel leader.

At least 80 people have been killed and hundreds injured in fighting since Monday in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, following the death John Garang, who was recently appointed Sudan’s first vice-president.

Julian Hottinger took part in peace talks in Kenya which finally ended 21 years of civil war between the predominantly Christian south and the Islamic government in Khartoum.

He said he was "optimistic" about the immediate future, provided the former rebel leaders continued to negotiate with the government about a power-sharing agreement.

"Garang was a chief figure in the negotiations," Hottinger told swissinfo. "A lot will depend on the role that Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) will play within the new coalition government."

The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday that 84 bodies from the violence had been counted in a Khartoum mortuary.

Tense

"The situation is very tense here," said ICRC spokeswoman Lorena Brander, speaking from the Sudanese capital. "There are riots and violent incidents taking place day and night and the situation is not under control."

Brander said fighting in the capital between rival gangs following Garang’s death showed little sign of abating.

She added that the Sudanese Red Crescent Society – the ICRC’s local partner – was reporting 111 dead and 312 injured in the fighting in Khartoum.

Malaise

"[The violence] is representative of a fundamental malaise," said Hottinger.

"When we talk about violence, we’re looking at what’s happening in Khartoum and forgetting that violence has broken out elsewhere years ago and has been on a continuous trend – I’m thinking of Darfur and southern regions of the eastern part of Sudan."

Hottinger said Garang’s death had exacerbated this malaise. "Southern Sudanese in the north feel their last hope has collapsed with [his] death."

He added that peace depended on Garang’s efforts being taken forward and "at least the spirit being respected".

Garang, who signed the peace deal in Kenya last January, was reported dead on Monday.

The SPLM named Salva Kiir as its new leader on the same day. He is expected to replace Garang as vice-president. He has already said he will respect the peace agreement and continue Garang’s efforts.

President Bush has sent two top US envoys to meet Kiir.

Transition

In the immediate future Hottinger believes things should get slightly better. "We have a six-and-a-half-year transition and within that transition it’s hard to see clearly how things will unfold, but at the beginning I’m kind of optimistic."

Garang’s funeral is due to take place on Saturday in Juba, the town he chose to be the capital of the autonomous region of southern Sudan.

Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, said he had issued a decree establishing a joint committee with the SPLM to investigate the crash.

On Wednesday Médecins Sans Frontières announced in Geneva that it was concerned about the continuing violence in Darfur, where government-backed militia are accused of killing thousands.

Between January and May, the charity said it had treated more than 500 people injured in the violence.

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Key facts

The 21-year civil war in Sudan's northern and southern regions came to end in January 2005 when a peace deal was signed.
A power-sharing government is now in place.
The war between the ethnic Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum in the North and the black African separatists who control the South claimed two million lives.
Switzerland is to contribute more than SFr10 million a year to the United Nations Mission in Sudan from 2006.
The government has also allocated $75 million over the next three years in humanitarian aid.

end of infobox

In brief

John Garang, a former southern rebel leader recently appointed Sudan’s first vice president, reportedly died in a helicopter crash at the weekend.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday it had counted 84 bodies from the violence in Khartoum that started on Monday.

end of infobox


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