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Sudan begins preparing for peace after accord



Published: Sat, January 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Diplomats, aid workers set to help after 21-year war.

RUMBEK, Sudan (AP) -- Businessmen, aid workers and diplomats have rushed to this sprawling town, set to become the provisional capital of an autonomous government for southern Sudan, amid a flowering of hope after the signing of a landmark peace accord ending the country's civil war.

Sudan's main rebel leader, John Garang, returned Saturday to the town that has been his headquarters, fresh from signing the deal between his southern-based Sudan Peoples Liberation Army and the central government.

Garang stepped over a white cow that that had been slaughtered on the tarmac -- the white cow is considered an offering to peace by his Dinka tribesman -- while hundreds of residents gathered at the dusty airstrip to witness his arrival. Some clung precariously to tree branches while others clambered on top of the fuselage of an aircraft that crashed here three years ago.

"It feels great after a peace agreement -- honorable and dignified -- you can see the people are very happy," Garang said.

The rebel leader was met by the U.N. chief envoy, Jan Pronk. Garang was to chair a meeting of his movement's legislative body, which is expected to endorse the peace deal. Monday is the deadline for the legislatures of both sides to approve the accord, which the two sides signed Jan. 9.

The north-south war -- at 21 years, Africa's longest war -- pitted Sudan's Islamic government against rebels seeking greater autonomy and a greater share of the country's wealth for the largely animist and Christian south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.

But now the preparation is for peace and the bounty it promises.

The British and Dutch embassies this week opened a joint liaison office in the sprawling town of scattered thatch huts 560 miles south of the capital, Khartoum.

Foreign donors have pledged hundreds of millions in aid, but many want to see progress resolving a separate conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region before releasing the funds.




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