“Some people say accident, it may be an accident, it may be something else,” President Yoweri Museveni said on Friday, becoming the first official of any government to publicly suggest the 31 July crash may have been the result of foul play.
“The [helicopter] was very well equipped, this was my [helicopter] the one I am flying all the time, I am not ruling anything out,” he said, noting that an international panel of experts had been appointed to look into the crash.
“Either the pilot panicked, either there was some side wind or the instruments failed or there was an external factor,” Museveni told southern Sudanese mourners in the town of Yai where Garang’s body was brought ahead of his Saturday funeral in Juba.
His comments were met with silence from the crowd, which had earlier greeted the arrival of Garang’s coffin with wailing, ululation and prayer.
Waiting for the inquiry
Garang’s successor as chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), Salva Kiir, declined to comment on the specifics of Museveni’s remarks, but said the group was eager to hear the results of the investigation.
“The (helicopter) was very well equipped, this was my (helicopter) the one I am flying all the time, I am not ruling anything out”
“All options are open and cannot be ruled out,” Kiir said after telling the mourners to reject the violence that has engulfed parts of Sudan since Garang’s death and urging them to hold to their ex-leader’s vision for peace.
“This is not the time for rioting,” Kiir said, blaming unspecified opponents of peace for wanting “to provoke a situation that would lead us back to war”.
Museveni did not elaborate on what he meant by an “external factor”, but there has been widespread speculation in southern Sudan that the aircraft might have been somehow sabotaged or shot down.
A journalist based in Uganda told Aljazeera that the Ugandan newspapers had speculated that Garang was not the target of the helicopter crash, but that the actual target had been the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Commenting on President Museveni’s remarks, Idris al-Qadi said the Ugandan press had implied that some Rwandan parties might have been behind the crash and that it was meant for Museveni and not Garang.
However, until Friday, officials in Khartoum and Kampala, members of the SPLM/A leadership and Garang’s widow, Rebecca, had all dismissed such possibilities and maintained that the crash was accidental.