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Sudan's Garang Laid to Rest in Juba

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Tens of thousands of mourners are gathered in Juba, the largest city in southern Sudan, for the funeral of former rebel leader John Garang. For more than two decades, John Garang led the black rebel movement in Sudan that challenged Khartoum's authority in the southern reaches of that country, demanded full citizenship rights for Sudan's majority non-Arabic population and he hoped he could help end the violence in Darfur. Mr. Garang was killed in a helicopter accident last weekend just three weeks after he was sworn in as Sudan's first vice president. Although his political party says the crash was an accident, John Garang's death has sparked deadly riots across the country. At least 130 people have died in the unrest. Juba's Arab residents have been evacuated in cargo planes. David McGuffin is Africa correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and joins us from Juba.

Mr. McGuffin, thanks for being with us.

Mr. DAVID McGUFFIN (CBC): Thank you.

SIMON: And set the scene there for us in Juba. How did the funeral start?

Mr. McGUFFIN: It was a multidenominational Christian funeral, so we had various church leaders saying prayers for John Garang. There was both traditional singing and Christian hymns here. There were huge, huge crowds here--tens of thousands of people, I'd say, on the streets. And the compound at the Catholic cathedral where the ceremony took place ...(unintelligible) I would say over a thousand people with many more lined up outside trying to get in.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. McGUFFIN: But by and large, it was a very calm affair, very dignified. There's a heavy, heavy government of Sudan military presence in the city right now. That's obviously in reaction to the riots that took place here earlier in the week. But today, it seems that they're following the words of the new leader of the SPLM, John Garang's successor, and remaining calm here at the funeral.

SIMON: Yeah. There must be some concern that this funeral at once might have a calming, healing effect on some of the divisions in the country and offer, in a sense, the opportunity for people to come together and yet also some concern that a funeral of this size and this emotional poignance could also set off people in a way that could be dangerous.

Mr. McGUFFIN: That was certainly the fear here; there was real fear there was going to be riots, and I think that's part of the reason we're seeing the police presence. But it has been very calm, incredibly calm, much calmer than I thought when I was coming in. And the word from both the SPLM leadership and from the president as well of Sudan, from Khartoum--he was here--and it was a message of peace and calm and working together, and they're really making an effort to bring an end to the violence that was sparked by John Garang's death, and that seems to be prevailing so far at least.

SIMON: And finally, Mr. McGuffin, in the 30 seconds we have left, what is he going to mean--John Garang's memory--to the future of Sudan?

Mr. McGUFFIN: Sorry. Can you repeat that?

SIMON: Well, I think maybe we're at the point of running out of time, but we wanted some sense of John Garang's importance--his memory--to the future of Sudan.

Mr. McGUFFIN: Oh, he's--yeah. I mean, everyone talks about John Garang's vision and his vision of coming through war and bringing peace to the country, and just bringing justice and freedom to the people of south Sudan and bringing peace to the whole of Sudan as well. That's been ...(unintelligible) John Garang's vision and that must be maintained even in death.

SIMON: David McGuffin in Juba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.