Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Amid fears that the death of a key player to Sudan's fledgling peace process could cause it to unravel, the United States Monday urged all parties in the country to work for "a unified, prosperous, and peaceful Sudan."
Washington also sent two top diplomats to help ensure that the process continues despite the weekend death of John Garang, the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) leader who last month assumed the position of first vice president.
Rioting erupted in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, as angry southerners ran amok, prompting the city authorities to announce an overnight curfew. Wire services quoted police as saying 24 people had been killed in the violence.
Garang died when the helicopter he was traveling in encountered bad weather and crashed while returning to southern Sudan from Uganda, where he had held talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Garang's recent swearing-in was part of the implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement negotiated for two years between the SPLA and Arab-Muslim government in Khartoum. The peace agreement aims to end over two decades of civil war, which claimed the lives of more than two million people and displaced millions more.
Garang was expected to lead the reconstruction of southern Sudan, a mostly Christian and animist region whose social, economic and political fabric was left in tatters by the conflict.
The loss of the veteran southern leader has given rise to serious uncertainty over the future of a process to which the international community, especially the U.S. and Sudan's southern neighbor, Kenya, has committed substantial financial and human resources.
"It's like snatching a newborn from the mother's lap," said Victor Mwangi, a foreign policy expert here. "It's a disaster. This could not have come at a worse time."
Sudanese refugees living in Kenya are stunned at the death of a man who was a hero to millions. Along main streets of the city, many could be seen in small groups discussing the tragedy.
"When we thought we had it, things turn this way," said Adrew Makdor, 28, who was planning to return to his homeland later in the year. "We hope the leadership left by Garang will steer the country out of this uncertainty," he said, adding: "It's really incomprehensible."
Garang kept a home in the capital, Nairobi, where women gathered and cried as men stood around in silence, evidently perplexed over the unexpected loss of a man who they felt had devoted much of his life to fighting for the rights of his people.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, deputy SPLA leader and vice president of southern Sudan, assured the international community that the group would push on with the peace objectives initiated by Garang.
"Leadership and all cadres of the SPLA will remain united and strive to faithfully implement the comprehensive peace agreement," Mayardit said in a press statement issued to reporters in Nairobi.
Former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, an initiator of the Sudan peace process and a close friend of Garang's called his death "painful."
"A few weeks ago, I had lengthy talks with him," the former president recalled. "He told me about his aims at consolidating peace in the whole of Sudan and the reconstruction of the south Sudan."
Moi told Cybercast News Service that Garang's death would give rise to "deep grief, anger and confusion."
"To emulate Garang, the [new leadership] will need to emulate his rare qualities of patience, negotiating skills, and understanding of the complexities of Sudanese politics and cultural diversity," Moi said.
President Bush hailed Garang as a "visionary leader and peacemaker," while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a statement offered her condolences to Garang's family and the Sudanese people.
Rice, who met with Garang several times - most recently on July 21 - called him "a man of great intellect and energy" who "applied those qualities to achieving a just peace for the people of Sudan."
"We call on all parties to work toward Dr. Garang's vision of a unified, prosperous, and peaceful Sudan."
A State Department spokesman said that Connie Newman, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, and Roger Winter, special representative for Sudan, were heading for Khartoum and the south, to "confer with the parties and encourage them to maintain momentum on the comprehensive peace agreement."
The U.S. and other governments hope that the north-south peace agreement will help speed up an end to a separate conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region, which has cost up to 300,000 lives since early 2003.
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
See Earlier Story:
Sudanese Rebel Leader Killed Days After Peace Deal Swearing-in (Aug. 1, 2005)
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