Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What were the sticking points of differences between Sudan and Uganda investigation teams over the causes of Garang's chopper crash?

A question addressed by Sana Abbas (Rayaam, 19Th April 2006)
Translation by John A. Akec

It was not an easy task for both Uganda and Sudan to overcome their differences over the final wording of the report and to draw the curtain over the plane crash wish killed the head of Sudan People Liberation Movement, and Sudan's First Vice President, Dr. John Garang. It has been a drawn out and painstaking process involving Sudan and Uganda, despite the contribution of third party countries. By blowing the whistle signalling the agreement on the final report, it is hoped that Garang will rest comfortably in his grave and brings an end to all the doubts and murmurings!

Khartoum was taken by surprise to receive complaints from Ugandan government expressing their reservation about the wording of certain clauses in the report on 11Th April 2006, a day before the set date to announce the findings of the investigation committee and to deliver the final report to parties concerned. At that time, all subcommittees agreed that the report was acceptable as is including the Ugandan members of the investigation.

The differences did not only arise between Uganda and Sudan, but also between the US investigator and Uganda, and between Kenyan representatives and all other teams.The American aviation accident investigator , Denis Jones, accused Uganda of subversion and obstructionism in refusal to hand over all the official press releases in relation to chopper crash to technical committee. This was followed by a formal complaint in October 2005 to president Museveni regarding these objections in addition to presenting a new method of investigation in which answers to 47 questions where demanded of Ugandan government. The questions relates to number of instruments on the chopper, examination of new documents, the need to reexamine parts of the wreckage, the number and the names of all the Ugandans and Russians who were involved with the chopper (maintenance or otherwise) before its final destination.

The investigators wanted to examine all the conflicting press reports by Ugandan government during the first 72 hours of Garang's chopper crash which caused great embarrassment to all concern. On its part, the Ugandan government continued to ignore the request by the committee. Not only that, but the Ugandan representation at the committee's meeting began to shrink!!

All this and more, led the head of Sudan national investigation team, Ambassador Saraag Al Din Hamid to announce in October 2005 that Uganda is hindering the work of the crash investigation committee by choosing not to co-operate with the committee for "unknown reasons." Furthermore, Saraag Al Din Hamid also revealed disappearance of a number of vital instruments on the wreckage which suggested that there was "a party" working hard behind the scene to deflect the finger of accusations being point at them. The pronouncements of the Sudanese Representative and the US investigator were met with "angry" statement issued Ugandan charge DE affairs in Khartoum in which Uganda categorically denied the accusations. Yet, continued to ignore demands by the committees to hand over vital information.

And after tiresome travels between Kampala, Entebe, Juba, and Russia during which the national and the international committee investigated federal and state ministers in the government of Southern Sudan, SPLM members and military commanders, the security personnel, and those who used to accompany John Garang in his travels; and amalgamating all the information with the findings of the Russian investigators on black box and cockpit recorder; the committee concluded that there was no foul play. The investigation, however, concluded that the accident must have been caused by the inexperience of the pilots and their inability to cope with the weather conditions at the time. That showed some "negligence" from Ugandan part. The committee had no way to prove if that "Ugandan negligence" was "deliberate or accidental".

However, a few hours before the report could be finalised, Ugandan government demanded that clauses which seem to put blame on Uganda should be modified. And to complicate matters, the announcement by an insurance company to pay a compensation amounting to US$ 3.4 million to Uganda before the publications of the findings caused more embarrassment to the government of Uganda.

However, last Wednesday the Ugandan and Sudanese teams in present of the US aviation investigator spent a whole day and the evening thrushing out their differences over the wording of the final report in Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. That continued until 3 am on the following day. During that time Uganda put pressure on the committee to modify clauses in the report. This was met with flat refusal by the Sudanese team. After wide consultations, it was finally agreed to incorporate the Ugandan amendments.

The final report was signed last Thursday by Mr Abel Alier on behalf of Sudan, and by Ugandan Communication Minister, John Nasasaria. It as also agreed that the report will be delivered to Sudan's and Ugandan head of the states next Tuesday which will be accompanied by a joined press release in both Khartoum and Kampala.