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Report on Death of Sudan's Garang Delayed Again

It has been seven months since Sudanese Vice President John Garang was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Sudan. His death came a mere three weeks after he assumed the vice presidency, and aroused suspicions of foul play. Results of an investigation into the crash have been repeatedly delayed, and many are convinced that Garang was murdered.

A report on the investigation into the death of Sudanese Vice President John Garang has been delayed again, raising suspicions about the reports findings. Southern Sudanese, many of whom considered Mr. Garang a hero, say they are convinced his death was the result of foul play.

Mr. Garang spent two decades fighting Sudan's northern Islamist government, before a January 2005 peace deal joined his rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and the ruling National Congress Party. Last July, Mr. Garang was awarded the vice presidency in a unity government, but only three weeks later his helicopter crashed in south Sudan, killing all on board.

In the hours following Garang's death, rumors spread that he had been murdered by his former northern foes. The capital, Khartoum, and south Sudan erupted in violence. Hundreds were killed in clashes that pitted northern Sudanese against southerners.

An joint Sudanese-international inquiry committee was formed within days, to investigate the death.

But that committee has not yet released its findings. And suspicion is growing among southerners, who believe that Mr. Garang's death was not an accident. Many fear that when the report is released, renewed violence will erupt.

Dr. Abendego Akok is head of the Juba University Center for Peace and Justice Studies. He says that delaying the release of the report is a mistake.

"The element of suspicion is there, and the suspicion is being made greater by the delay of the report of the committee," he said. "No one can say exactly when the committee will report. The southern public is anxious to know the results. Nothing has been specific; to tell us [at] such a date it will be out. So, that attitude can build in more suspicion in the community of southerners."

The head of the inquiry commission, Abel Alier, told Reuters in January that the findings would be released in February. Alier was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

Southern community leaders say there are bound to be problems when the report finally is released. Southern community leaders say they have denounced violence, but they fear their communities will turn violent again.

Mark Atan is a community development officer with the Ministry of Cooperation and Community Development. He works in southern communities and says most southerners believe Mr. Garang was murdered by the northern government.

Atan says he believes the report is being withheld to prevent an eruption of violence that would damage Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

"The delay of this report is because the authority does not want to release this because it will erupt," said Atan. "People will fight within the towns. And then, when there is war, the CPA is finished. That is why it is kept secret."

Philip Ungang is an elder member of a southern community on the outskirts of Khartoum. He says measures to prevent violence are likely to have little effect.

"We have community leaders everywhere the southerners are," he said. "The problem is that everybody is, of course, not happy with the incident. So, even if the community leaders try their best to let people calm down, I do not think they will really be able to control the people."

For now, Sudanese have little to do but wait anxiously to see if the reports findings will drive northern and southern Sudanese even further apart.