Garang's Widow Seeks to Revive Sudan Peace Deal
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When Southern Sudan's charismatic rebel leader, John Garang, died in a helicopter crash last year, many feared the peace deal he'd worked so hard for would falter. Mr. Garang's widow is now trying to pick up his mantle and bring international attention back to southern Sudan. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
Rebecca Garang has a tough job in Southern Sudan, a region struggling to recover from a decades-long civil war. She's the Minister of Roads and Transportation in a place that, as her late husband often put it, hadn't seen a tarmac road since creation. She came to Washington to remain the U.S. of its promises of aid, and only half joked that she left empty baskets around town.
Ms. REBECCA GARANG (Minister of Roads and Transportation, Southern Sudan): You know, my late husband use to tell me that disappointment is a function of expectation. Yes, pledges were there, but it will be our duty to follow up.
KELEMEN: The soft-spoken mother of six is also following up on her husband's role. He was an imposing figure, a rebel fighter turned peace negotiator, and statesman who knew the ropes in Washington. In her hotel suite here this week, Rebecca Garang spoke about her own role on the front lines of Southern Sudan's civil war.
Ms. GARANG: I had to join my husband because I loved him. And I loved what he was doing. He was fighting for a united Sudan. And I was Separatist. So there was one day I was telling him that, do you know that you are sleeping in a room with a Separatist, and he told me yes.
KELEMEN: Eventually she says she was won over by his vision of a new Sudan, a vision that Bush Administration officials bought into as well as they worked with Garang to hammer out a North-South peace deal.
Ms. GARANG: His vision is, it was widely received. It was a clear and beautiful vision. And this why you see I'm still standing on, on the side of our people to support them, because this is a vision to all the people of Sudan. Not only the people of Southern Sudan.
KELEMEN: The conflict in Darfur in Western Sudan has taken the international spotlight away from the plight of the Southerners. Violence in the East has also flared. But Garang argues that no one should look at these as individual cases. The wealth and power-sharing agreements between the North and the South could be used as models for other conflicts, she says, an idea the Bush Administration also promotes. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellicke admits John Garang's death made this harder.
Mr. ROBERT ZOELLICKE (U.S. Deputy Secretary of State): The best testimony to him and the best monument to him is to make that vision into a reality. And that's what we're trying to do and it's done under more difficult circumstances, 'cause his leadership is missed.
KELEMEN: During one of their meetings, Garang told Zoellicke that she thinks the Northerners in Khartoom are dragging their feet in implementing the North-South peace deal. She accused them of not sharing Sudan's oil wealth.
Ms. GARANG: It looks like they are hiding something that they don't want us to know. And we are asking seriously what is the produce and what is the income, and what are we dividing? And we are not getting an answer yet on that.
KELEMEN: The widow of John Garang is clearly still a fighter. While she told U.S. officials she is disappointed that the North-South peace deal is being implemented too slowly, she reassured them that John Garang's followers are committed.
Ms. GARANG: We are here. We are all here. And we are trying our level best. It was not easy to lose him. But we are on the right track.
KELEMEN: Rebecca Garang did not actually bring a basket to the State Department. But when she went back for more talks with Deputy Secretary Zoellicke this week, he pulled out his own basket, a gift from women in Darfor. His aides say inside it was a piece of paper detailing the $460 million in U.S. aid projects in Southern Sudan from fiscal year '05 to '07. Zoellicke also used the occasion to solicit Garang's help in working on troubled peace efforts in Darfor. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.