Sudan rebel leader on historic Khartoum visit

Former southern rebel leader John Garang was due to arrive in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Friday on his first visit to the city in more than 22 years following a January peace accord with the Sudanese government.

Garang, head of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), accompanied by senior SPLM officials, was expected at Khartoum airport at about 4pm local time on a private aircraft from Rumbek, the provisional southern capital, officials said.

First Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and a selected group of 100 officials and public figures will be on hand to receive him, according to SPLM and government sources.

Following a brief airport reception, Garang and members of his delegation—about 200—will proceed to the nearby headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) for a meeting with President Omar al-Beshir.

A similar number of NCP members will also attend the meeting.

Posters of Garang and banners welcoming him to Khartoum have been put up on streets and buildings in the capital.

“Welcome Dr John Garang,” read one. Below it was written “Social justice” and “freedom”.

State television has been running public announcements ahead of the visit, calling on the people to come out in force to attend a rally the former rebel leader is to hold late on Friday at the capital’s main public square.

A series of events, including musical performances, has also been organised in honour of Garang.

The SPLM’s black, green, white and red flag lined the streets from the airport to the Green Square on the edge of the capital.

Public and private vehicles in the city also carried SPLM flags and Garang’s pictures.
Until recently, doing so was a crime.

Newspapers hailed Garang’s visit as a historic moment in the history of the country and ran banner headlines announcing the long-awaited sojourn.

“Khartoum completes preparations to welcome Dr John Garang,” said the daily al-Hayat newspaper. “Garang in Khartoum,” the independent Al-Rai Al-Aam announced. “Khartoum welcomes Garang today,” said Akhbar Al-Yom.

The SPLM signed an agreement with the government on January 9, ending more than two decades of north-south conflict that left an estimated two million people dead and four million displaced.

Under the deal, Garang will be sworn in on Saturday as Sudan’s first vice-president and president of a semi-autonomous southern region. That will usher in a six-year interim period to be followed by a referendum on whether the south wishes to secede or remain a part of Sudan.

Nearly a dozen heads of state and government, mostly from the neighbouring countries, have confirmed that they will attend the swearing-in, which will coincide with the lifting of the state of emergency and the release of political prisoners.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Arab League chief Amr Mussa and United States Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick will also be present.—Sapa-AFP

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