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Sunday, 29 May 2011

‘Leaving Bitterness Behind’

Excerpts Form:
Lagu’s counterpart at the time, the head of the movement’s political wing, was a man named Joseph Oduho, and it was the late Oduho who introduced Lagu to the Israeli ambassador and political attache in Kampala, Uganda, where there was a growing Israeli presence in the late 1960s. “We have a common concern, and that is fighting the Arabs,” Lagu wrote in the letter he gave the attache, asking him to pass it on up through the ranks.

The commander went on to offer a deal: If Israel would support Anyanya, Lagu promised to tie down the northern Sudanese armies so as to prevent them from joining the Egyptians and other Arabs from attacking Israel in the future.

“I waited for a response, but the problem was that Eshkol died. He never even saw that letter,” says Lagu. “But luckily, he was followed by a woman who must have found that very letter and she contacted me. They were interested in the part where I said we would tie down the north, and believed we might even manage to tie up some of the Egyptian forces who would come to the north’s assistance.”

Golda Meir summoned Lagu to Israel, “practically smuggling him in,” as he tells it. And during that first two-week trip to the country and the territories – in between tours to military bases around the country, from the Golan Heights to the Sinai and the West Bank – the Sudanese commander met with the prime minister in her Jerusalem office. They spoke about religion, and Lagu told her how, he recalls, “the Christian southerners considered Jews as the cousins of Christ.” They talked arms. And then shook hands on a deal.

Short-lived relationship
Soon after, a shipment of weapons reached Juba from Israel – mainly two- and three-inch mortars, anti-tank missiles and light machine guns taken from enemy Arab countries during the 1967 war.
“They did not give us new weapons, or ones that were manufactured in Israel,” Lagu explains, “as they did not want to be publicly known to be helping us.”

Later, three Israeli advisors arrived and joined the rebels in the bush: a military advisor, a technician and a doctor. While other arms were coming in from Congolese rebels and international arms dealers, the Israeli assistance, Lagu explains, was what tipped the scales: “This helped transform my movement, and we became a force to be reckoned with. We began to make a real impact in the fighting against Khartoum.”

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