Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Crowds cheer Sudanese leader after deal

AP , Juba, Sudan

Southern Sudanese dancing groups take part in peace celebrations in Juba, Sudan on Monday. With a peace treaty in hand, Sudan's president Omar el-Bashir began a triumphant tour of his country on Monday, greeted by 10,000 mainly Christian revelers in this longtime southern Sudan garrison city, which his army once used to stage attacks against rebels during a 21-year civil war.

PHOTO: AP

With a peace treaty in hand, Sudan's president began a triumphant tour of his country, greeted by 10,000 mainly Christian revelers in this longtime southern garrison city, which his army once used to stage attacks against rebels during a 21-year civil war.

President Omar el-Bashir, wearing a long, white chieftain's shirt over his safari suit, stopped and restarted his speech several times Monday when onlookers regularly broke into deafening applause and began waiving white pieces of cloth in signs of peace.

"Our ultimate goal is a united Sudan, which will not be built by war but by peace and development," el-Bashir said. "You, the southerners, will be saying, `We want a strong and huge state, a united Sudan.'"

Juba, about 1,200km south of the capital of Khartoum, was el-Bashir's first stop on a two-day tour to celebrate Sunday's landmark signing of the treaty to end the African continent's longest war.

Government forces and rebel fighters from the Sudan People's Liberation Army began fighting in 1983, leaving more than 2 million people dead, mainly through war-induced famine and disease. Another 4 million were displaced from their homes.

The UN Security Council said on Monday it would speedily consider sending peacekeepers to Sudan to support the new peace deal.

Jan Pronk, the top UN envoy to Sudan, was expected to brief the security council on a peacekeeping force yesterday. He said last month that if a peace agreement was reached, he envisioned Security Council adoption of a resolution in the third week of January authorizing a wide-ranging UN peacekeeping and peace-building mission, hopefully with 9,000 to 10,000 troops.

El-Bashir later flew east to another southern town, Torit, to celebrate the peace deal and inaugurate a power station before returning to Juba. He was expected yesterday to fly north to the Upper Nile state capital of Malakal for further celebrations before returning to Khartoum.

"We ask God to bless us to maintain the peace and stand united, not for the sake of Omar el-Bashir or [SPLA leader John] Garang, but for Sudan," said farmer Takmo Jeddy at the rally.

On top of its human cost, the conflict ravaged infrastructure in oil-rich southern Sudan, which has seen virtually no development since the 1950s because of conflicts and insecurity.

"The money which we have been spending on war will now be spent on services and development in the south," el-Bashir said from his heavily guarded podium.

Experts predict oil companies will rush in to expand Sudan's production from the 345,000 barrels a day recorded in June last year. Sudan has proven reserves of 635 million barrels, much of that inaccessible during the war.

The peace accord will also turn Garang, a Juba native who opposed government forces for decades, into Sudan's first vice president, while northerners and southerners will also share legislative power and natural resources. Southern Sudan's 10 states will also be secular, while the north will practice Islamic law.

In Khartoum's central Green Square, thousands of Garang supporters staged wild celebrations. An estimated 3 million southern Sudanese moved to the capital during the war.

The southern accord also has raised hopes a power-sharing formula can be reached to halt fighting in Darfur, a vast western region where tens of thousands of people have died in an almost 2-year-old conflict, pitting rebels against government forces and allied Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed.

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