Violence in Sudan Subsiding as Government Urges Calm
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
More than 100 people have been killed in Sudan this week in a wave of riots and ethnic clashes sparked by the death in a helicopter crash of John Garang. He was Sudan's vice president and the former rebel leader who helped negotiate January's agreement ending more than two decades of civil war between Sudan's Arab government and rebels in the largely Christian and animist south of the country. Joining us now is Noel King, a journalist working in Khartoum.
Ms. King, first of all, this has been--there's been a good deal of violence in Khartoum this week. What is the situation like today?
Ms. NOEL KING (Journalist): Today, things have calmed down a great deal. You see fewer trucks full of police in the streets. You see people out and about on the streets as normal, again--families, children. You do see southern and northern Sudanese sort of associating, talking to one another. People are behaving in a friendly manner again, which is something that has been missing for the past three days.
WERTHEIMER: John Garang's death last Saturday touched off riots and looting by his supporters and I gather that that led to a response, revenge attacks, by Sudanese Arabs. Is that right?
Ms. KING: There was retaliation by the northern community. Much of the physical retaliation was by young northern men as the initial rioting was young southern men. Many northern families had said they were going to barricade themselves inside their homes or to buy guns. And I know that many, many people did that.
WERTHEIMER: We're now seeing reports of disturbances in Juba, which is the largest town in southern Sudan. What can you tell us about that?
Ms. KING: I've heard reports, and again unconfirmed reports, that many northern Sudanese in Juba who are working as aid workers have been rounded up into camps for their own safety and many of them are, of course, trying frantically to get back into Khartoum but there have been delays in flights. From what I understand, the death toll in Juba has been much lower.
WERTHEIMER: How about the Sudanese government? How's the government responded to this?
Ms. KING: The government has urged calm and the government has said again and again that this death was an accident, that this death will be investigated in a timely and efficient and transparent manner, and that the disturbances between northern and southern Sudanese are not warranted because of one thing, because at this point, as many people have said, John Garang was the government, he was no longer a rebel leader in the sense that the government had a reason to assassinate him. And so the government, I think, has been trying to focus people's attention on this fact: He was the vice president of the Sudanese government. The Sudanese government had no reason to do away with him.
WERTHEIMER: What is your feeling now? Does this look like this wave of violence was a spasm which will be over soon or do you think it could undermine the peace agreement, undermine the legitimacy of the government?
Ms. KING: Official parties here, the Sudanese government, the United Nations, the SPLM, they're all saying that this will not affect the peace agreement. Talking to Sudanese civilians on the ground, that at the very least this has created suspicion and tension and, in some cases, maybe in rare cases, even hatred of northern Sudanese for southern and southern for northern. That could be a big problem for a peace agreement. Peace agreements are, of course, signed by governors and by officials and by rebel leaders. But if the people on the ground are not going to get along, that is going to either derail or to undermine or at the very least to shake up the peace agreement a little bit.
In many instances it's been proven that, out of necessity, Sudanese have a short-term memory. They've had problems and wars and fights and skirmishes so many times in this country that I think people are very accustomed to getting back to normal.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.
Ms. KING: Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: Noel King is a journalist. We reached her in Khartoum.
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