Sudan’s new vice president promises to follow path of peace, work for unity of the country
KHARTOUM, Sudan – A former southern rebel commander was sworn in to replace his late ally as first vice president Thursday and promised to pursue peace for all of Sudan, including bloodied Darfur and the restive east.Salva Kiir Mayardit linked hands with other leaders in a show of unity, and then a singer proclaimed “I am African, I am Sudanese,” while spectators danced forward, shaking walking sticks and embracing each other in celebration. President Omar al-Bashir danced a bit and shook hands with well-wishers.But the day was generally somber, far more muted than the festive July 9 ceremony at the same spot when Kiir’s late predecessor, John Garang de Mabior, became first vice president amid strong hopes that Sudan was on the road toward peace.Garang reached a peace accord with al-Bashir in January to end a 21-year civil war in the south by giving southerners a role in the national government and promising an equal sharing of the wealth in Africa’s biggest country, particularly the south’s oil fields.Sudan was briefly thrown into turmoil when Garang died in a helicopter crash July 30, three weeks after taking office as first vice president. His death raised fears the peace deal could unravel and bring more fighting in the south, where 2 million people died during the war.But Kiir, Garang’s longtime deputy in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, stepped in to take his place and vowed to keep the peace, protect Sudan’s unity and help heal divisions in other parts of the multiethnic nation.”I am honored by taking the oath of office today, but this day shall also remain engraved in my mind as one of the saddest days,” Kiir told the audience after taking the oath with his right hand on Sudan’s new constitution in a tent outside the Republican Palace. He called Garang “my dear friend, leader and brother.”After his oath, Kiir stood with al-Bashir and Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, his partners in the national unity government, and all three joined hands and raised them high to the applause of the audience.The inauguration also made Kiir president of the southern autonomous government set up under the January accord between the mainly Muslim Arab north and the mainly Christian-animist south.Although the peace deal promises southerners a referendum on secession after a six-year transition, Kiir sought to dispel speculation he might favor eventual secession of the south, unlike Garang who advocated a unified Sudan.”I wish to affirm that is neither my intention to turn from the route of John Garang nor to redefine the objectives of the SPLM,” Kiir said to applause.He also said he would help bring peace to other regions.”Comprehensive peace requires a quick resolution to the problems of Darfur and eastern Sudan. To that cause I shall emphasize all the energies of the SPLM as well as mine,” Kiir said.Since reaching the peace deal with Garang, al-Bashir’s government signed a reconciliation accord with the National Democratic Alliance, an opposition group that has kept eastern Sudan unstable since 1989 even though there hasn’t been major violence for a few years.That deal calls for the NDA to all join in the power-sharing government once details are worked out.All sides hope that Sudan could then negotiate an end to bloodshed in the western region of Darfur, where at least 180,000 people have died and 2 million displaced during two years of violence.”This is a day in which sadness and joy mix,” al-Bashir said at the ceremony, mourning the loss of Garang but praising the SPLM.”It overcame its sadness and chose one of the sons of the homeland, Gen. Salva Kiir, as its head, showing that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would continue to be implemented and would not be affected by the death of anyone,” the president said.As former commander of the SPLM’s military wing, Kiir is a career military man who is making his first foray into the challenges of politics.His immediate concerns will be working with al-Bashir and Taha on naming a national Cabinet and setting up the southern government, tasks Garang was working on when he died.Garang was flying in a Ugandan presidential helicopter when it crashed into a mountain in southern Sudan. The cause is being investigated jointly by the SPLM and Khartoum government.”We’ve lost our leader, and we have another leader. We have to move on,” said Deng Dongrin, acting secretary-general of the southern Sudan government, said at the inauguration.
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