United Nations officials are closely monitoring the situation in Khartoum, where violence has broken out following the death of Vice President John Garang, the long-time leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. As head of the SPLM, Mr. Garang played a pivotal role in the peace process that ended Sudan's civil war in January after more than two decades of strife. But, observers are now concerned that his death in a helicopter crash will jeopardize the delicate peace in Sudan.
The United Nations announced Mr. Garang's death Monday, less than one month after he was sworn in as Sudan's first vice president. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who attended the July 9 swearing in ceremony, called Mr. Garang charismatic and larger than life.
"At that time it was such a moment of hope. Here is [a] man who had lived and fought for peace and one united Sudan," he said. "Just as he was on the verge of achieving what he has lived for he is taken away from us. But what is important is that the Sudanese continue with the process of reconciliation and the process of peace."
Animosities between the Arab-dominated north of Sudan and the south began in 1983, after Khartoum's adoption of Islamic law. A peace accord was signed in January, and a new constitution was adopted last month, but the issue of Darfur remains unresolved.
Mr. Annan said all indications are that the helicopter crash was an accident. He called on the Sudanese people to remain calm and honor John Garang's legacy by continuing the peace process.
The secretary general said he has spoken to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir, who assured him that the government will work with other SPLM leaders to move forward with the peace process. Mr. Annan said it is essential for the SPLM to quickly pick a successor to Mr. Garang.
"We have offered a very close collaboration with the government and SPLM," he said. "In fact, we have been working with them ever since the crash. It is our plane that has taken the body to New City, and also retrieved the other bodies. So we are on the ground very actively working with them, and we have made it clear that we will give them all the support necessary, both in the political process and in our efforts to contain the humanitarian situation and settle the process in Darfur."
Mr. Annan said he assumes that the new SPLM leader will also become the head of southern Sudan and replace Mr. Garang as first vice president when the new government is formed August 9.