Home | News    Thursday 30 June 2005

Garang reaches out to southern militia chiefs in key truce talks

NAIROBI, June 30 (AFP) — The leader of southern Sudan John Garang welcomed Khartoum-backed southern Sudanese militia groups back into the fold as the vast African nation prepares to start implementing a landmark January peace agreement.

Gordon Kong

The three-day talks, which opened Thursday and were organized by retired Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, are aimed at convincing militias to halt attacks on civilian targets, mostly in Upper Nile region, and at welcoming the militias into the peace deal, against which they have protested.

Garang, addressing delegates from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and militia groups in Kenya, said it was imperative "to heal the wounds of the past, remove mistrust, build confidence, and restore fraternity and mutual respect among ourselves."

"Furthermore we believe that some of these differences are not real, but are either a result of different perception and conceptions of our situation or a simply created to advance some political agenda," Garang said.

Militia leaders Gabriel Tanginya and Paulino Matip, who both command heavily-armed militias blamed for abducting hundreds of civilians and imposing illegal taxes in Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile region, were present at the talks.

Others expected to attend are Gordon Kong and Ismael Konyi — from the Upper Nile region — as well as Abdalla Ayii from Bahr El-Ghazal region.

The militia leaders, who in April boycotted a key regional conference in Kenya that was aimed at promoting post-war reconciliation between the south’s fractious factions, demanded a separate meeting with Garang.

They have in the past termed Garang as dictatorial and insensitive.

"Every Sudanese must get involved in the culture of peace building in order to realize peace dividend," said Moi, who since his retirement in December 2002, has taken up the role of a regional peacemaker.

"I encourage you to turn this meeting into an opportunity to share your thoughts and experience and to exercise flexibility in the spirit of forgiveness as true daughters and sons of the south," he said.

Under a peace agreement signed in Kenya in January between the Khartoum government and SPLM/A, all the militia groups operating in southern Sudan would have been incorporated in the peace agreement before July 9 when the implementation of the peace deal starts.

But the militia chiefs have said the deal was incomplete in their absence.

Sudan watchers have repeatedly warned that the absence of the militia chiefs could hamper the effective implementation of the deal and restoration of stability in southern Sudan when Garang becomes the Sudan’s Vice President, in accordance with the peace deal.

The war, which erupted in 1983, in southern Sudan claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced more than four million others.

Matip’s Southern Sudan Defence Forces, in a statement, accused Garang had played part in the deteroriation of ties between SPLM/A and Garand in southern Sudan.

"Continuous violent attitude of the SPLM under the leadership of Dr. John Garang has produced permanent distrust among the people of southern Sudan Sudan," it said.

Commenting of the conflicts in Sudan’s western region of Darfur and eastern Sudan, Garang said: "We are determined to have peace all over the Sudan, we want peace in Darfur, we want peace in eastern Sudan and want the LRA (Uganda’s insurgents Lord’s Resistance Army) out of southern Sudan and we want a comprehensive peace so that we are able to development in our country," he added.

The Darfur conflict, which erupted in February, 2003, has claimed between 180,000 and 300,000 lives, with some 2.4 million civilians displaced from their homes, while an additional 200,000 have fled into neighbouring Chad.

While fighting between rebel Eastern Front and Khartoum troops in eastern Sudan erupted last week, with rebels accusing the Sudanese government is trying to hide casualties from alleged bombing of civilian targets.