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Southern Sudanese Mark 40 Days Since Garang's Death

Displaced Southern Sudanese have marked 40 days since the death of former southern rebel John Garang, who was killed in a helicopter crash just days after being named vice president in a unity government. Southern Sudanese are apprehensive about the new government, but anxious to return to southern Sudan following two decades of north-south warfare.

In a dusty, windswept clearing on the outskirts of a ghetto housing displaced southern Sudanese, several hundred people gathered Friday to bid farewell to the spirit of the charismatic former rebel leader, John Garang.

The traditional Sudanese ceremony, called arbaeen, which means 40 in Arabic, is held 40 days after a death, to urge God to welcome the deceased into heaven.

Many at the ceremony, just outside Khartoum, said they were uneasy. Southerners here, displaced by fighting, are unsure of what the future holds, as they await Sudan's new government, and the chance to go home.

On Thursday, Sudan's government-run news agency announced that the new Sudan government would be formed by Sunday. The government of national unity resulted from a January peace agreement that ended 21 years of war between north and south Sudan. Formation of the government, originally scheduled for early August, was postponed after the death of Mr. Garang, who had been named vice president. He was succeeded in that post by his deputy, Salva Kir.

Many southern Sudanese are apprehensive about the incoming government. Pasquale Clement is a member of the former southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, that was led by Mr. Garang. He says, despite the promise of peace, southern Sudanese do not trust the incoming government.

"The government of Khartoum here is really very difficult to deal with," said Pasquale Clement. "For the incoming government, still it's going to be a big problem. There is already very big mistrust between the southerners and the northerners. As such, they don't think any northern government is serious to implement the peace. Any northern government is not so serious to make sure the people go back to the south. They [southerners] feel they are very insecure. They feel the north has come out against them. They feel the coming government will have no power to protect them in Khartoum. They feel the international community is too far. They feel they have suffered enough."

The new government is temporary. In six years, southern Sudanese will vote in a referendum on whether to remain united with northern Sudan or secede. Reverend Abendego Vuni believes southern Sudanese favor secession.

"Whatever happens now, we should just swallow it for the sake of waiting for the referendum," said Abendego Vuni. "If the referendum will go now, now, 250 percent will vote for separation, now. Now, if we wait for six years, maybe 150, but I'm sure they are all going to vote for separation."

The signing of the peace deal ushered in hope that displaced southern Sudanese would be able to return home. Those present at Friday's ceremony expressed a desire to return to south Sudan immediately.

Even the youngest have their eyes fixed firmly on return. Yohanna is 15. He was born in Khartoum, but does not consider it his home.

"I want to go back, because I have my brothers there," said Yohanna. "All of my family is there. I want to go back to them. A lot. More than six years, I have my family here. Our house is there, next to the cemetery over here. With my family and my brothers and my uncle. All of them they want to go back home also. All of them are staying here. My brothers, my uncles and my aunt. They all want to go back to see the people back there.

But return to the south has been slow. Most southerners cannot afford a plane ticket or bus fare. Many have appealed for help from international organizations, but there are simply too many who want to go home. And in the south, there is little infrastructure present in war-ravaged towns.

Monica Sabino was born in the southern town of Wau. She is studying rural development so that she can return to the south to help rebuild. She understands the road back will take time, but she understands the impatience of other internally displaced, or IDP's anxious to return now.

"They eagerly want to go back," said Monica Sabino. "Some have announced that the NGO's seem to be slow in the project of returning the IDP's back. Some have determined they will go on foot, if they are not taken back. But we used to tell them that you cannot go like that. Unless the ground there is prepared for them, the schools are built, and there is all the essential basic needs. We are now trying to convince them to stay and to be patient."

The desire to return home is bolstered by the ethnic tension in Khartoum. Feelings still run high after three days of rioting that followed Mr. Garang's death, in which 130 people were killed.

Despite the anger between north and south Sudanese, the two groups have managed to live together. They have also learned from one another. Angelina Daniel, who organized the gathering honoring Mr. Garang, explains that Arbaeen is not a southern tradition, but a northern one. It has been adopted by the displaced southerners here.

"It is not our tradition, you know," said Angelina Daniel. "We got this tradition here. It is not our tradition. It belonged to north Sudan, not to south Sudan, but, now, you know, we are here for a long time. So, we are just following their tradition also. After two, three years, I just do like you do."

As the day comes to a close, tired parents pull their children home to tumbledown shacks. The drums are dismantled and the singers sit and rest. Members of this community know they will have less in the south than they have here. But many feel the south is where they belong.