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The death of Mr. John Garang, who led Sudan’s southern rebels for two decades, risks destabilizing that country. Mr. Garang’s decision to make peace with the Khartoum government ended a bloody civil war that had claimed more than 2 million lives. The peace that he negotiated must outlive him.

Sudan is divided among racial and religious lines. The northern half is predominantly Islamic; the southern half, a mix of Christians, Muslims and animists. The attempt to impose sharia, or Islamic law, on the south in 1983 set off a bitter conflict. It ended earlier this year with a peace deal that guaranteed southerners more say over their lives and installed Mr. Garang as a vice president of the Sudanese government.

Mr. Garang died last weekend in a helicopter crash as he was returning from talks in Uganda. Immediately after his death was confirmed, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) named Mr. Salva Kiir, Mr. Garang’s former deputy, to replace him.

The speed with which the SPLM acted may not be enough to save the peace. While Mr. Kiir worked on the negotiations that produced the peace agreement, he does not command the same level of support among southerners that Mr. Garang did. Given the fractious nature of the SPLM, the leadership change could threaten the future of the accord.

Peace will also depend on the Khartoum government’s readiness to honor its provisions. As Mr. Kiir does not enjoy the same respect as did Mr. Garang, the government may be tempted to marginalize him and his followers. Any excuse will do: Mr. Kiir is reportedly not as committed to a united Sudan as was his predecessor.

Immediately after reports of his death, thousands of southern Sudanese rioted in Khartoum, resulting in more than 20 deaths. Restoring peace is the first test for the new Sudanese leadership; much depends on its success.

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