By MOHAMED OSMAN Associated Press Writer
Juba, Sudan – After years of war and death, residents of this predominantly Christian southern city danced in the streets Sunday after rebel and government leaders signed a treaty to end Sudan’s 21-year civil war.
Despite the outpouring of joy, many war-scarred residents remained cautious over what the future will bring following a conflict that killed more than 2 million, mainly through war-induced famine and disease, and displaced 4 million more from their homes.
‘People keep asking me, `Father, is it true that peace has come, finally?” said local priest, Father Santo Loku Pio, who is also secretary-general of the Juba archdiocese.
But the doubts and the hot, humid weather, could not dampen the festive atmosphere that descended on Juba following the peace treaty signing in Kenya by Sudan People’s Liberation Army leader John Garang, who hails from this city of 160,000 people, and Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha.
About 10,000 people, mainly ululating women wearing white gowns and red headscarves pinned with roses, marched through the city’s wide, tree-lined streets in a procession to the city’s main cathedral on a ritual cleansing of the torture and pain that stained Juba’s roads during the war.
Before the march started, thousands observed a two-minute silence ‘to commemorate the death of our sons, daughters, fathers and mothers who with their deaths initiated this peace process,’ Pio said.
Children waved Sudanese and SPLA flags as the marchers passed under a banner praising Garang, who fought government forces for decades but is to become a first vice president after the treaty signing. ‘Garang and Taha are two sides of the same coin of peace, stability and progress,’ read a banner that hung near Juba’s local government building.
‘If I die today then I will die in peace because we used to be living in a huge prison but now with the peace treaty everything is open, especially our hearts,’ said Helda Gokunta, a 42-year-old University of Juba janitor. Gokunta, like many of government-held Juba’s mainly Christian and animist residents, suffered greatly during the conflict. Her mother, father and brother were killed and she has not seen or heard of her other brother in 5 years.
Some, however, believed the politicians should not get all the credit. ‘Don’t be fooled that it was (Sudanese President) Omar el-Bashir or Garang that brought this peace,’ said mechanic Stephen Wani.