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South Sudan to open 54 missions

Amira Agarib (KT EXCLUSIVE) / 24 July 2011

The Republic of South Sudan will open 54 new diplomatic missions around the world and travellers from those countries, which have no diplomatic missions, will be granted visa on arrival, says Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Minister of Information and spokesman for the Government of South Sudan, in an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times.

Dr Benjamin said the country has prepared a new foreign policy strategy and undertaken a review of existing agreements, including sharing of Nile river benefits.

“The country has planned new trade agreements with different countries and will open embassies and consulates around the world with new diplomatic service staff,” he added.

The minister said the country would open around 34 diplomatic missions in the first phase. It currently has 13 diplomatic missions in some countries including Australia, the US, Japan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Canada. The government plans to increase the number of missions to 54 in future. China, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda are among the countries that already have their missions in South Sudan, the minister said.

He said tourists who want to visit South Sudan could apply to the missions. “However, visitors from those countries, where we have no diplomatic missions for the time being, will be granted visa on arrival.”

“The country has already become a member of the United Nations and it will also join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is planning to become a member of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa and will also sign bilateral and mutual agreements with various countries”, he added.

The minister said the Republic of South Sudan is working to open an embassy in the UAE to boost economic and trade relations between the two countries. He said there are daily cargo flight between the UAE and Juba. The Republic of South Sudan has good ties with Egypt and many South Sudanese students are in Egypt for study and training purposes.

To a question, Dr Benjamin said the Republic of South Sudan would continue to work with the North as an independent and sovereign state as both the countries have common economic and security interests.

The minster said that South Sudan is negotiating some of the outstanding issues with the North, including oil revenues, as the South produces oil but the commodity passes through the North. The oil refinery and export port are also in the North. He said the South has most of the oil, but currently depends on the North’spipelines and port to get it to the market.

To a question, the minister said under the new constitution, the government will accept the dual citizenship right of the people. The people from the North, who are living in the South, may acquire citizenship as prescribed by the law. He said we would give permanent residence to Northern people who come for investment in addition to skilled workers with certain conditions that would be specified by the Department of Naturalisation and Immigration Authority.

He said that in the first stage, the government will issue passports to executives and government officials. General residents will be able to apply to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for passports within a few months and on acquiring the new passports, the people will have to surrender the old ones to the government, the minister added. Southern Sudanese who want to travel abroad could apply for a passport immediately.

About unresolved issues in the comprehensive peace agreement, including the border conflict, Dr Benjamin said that some critical issues are still subject to negotiations with the help of the international mediators.

The two governments have signed the Abie protocol to resolve the border conflict and both parties should implement that protocol. He said 80 per cent of border issues have been agreed upon. “We had prepared Blue Nile and South Kordufan protocols, which will help resolve current issues and bring stability in both countries.”

The minister said his government is committed to the concept of soft borders with the North, allowing freedom of movement to pastoral list and it will welcome and help settle Southern Sudanese who wish to return from the North.

“South Sudan will recognise all legally acquired property and land ownership. It will also respect the right of people living in territory from diverse ethnic cultural and racial backgrounds as the transitional constitution”, he added.

To a query, he said the government would take all possible steps to protect its people and to address the conflicts through dialogue and peace-building measures.

He said the new Southern Sudan currency is pegged at one-to-one with existing Sudanese pound and it may take three months to replace the Sudanese pound with the new South currency.

About residence permits in South Sudan, the minister said the government would give grace period for people to arrange permit to stay. “The government of Sudan has closed the road to pressurise the South. It will not only affect the Southern Sudanese, but also the Northern traders. South Sudan will suffer from closure of the border this month, but North Sudan will be affected when we turn to East Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda”.

To a question, Dr Benjamin said the next national elections will be held after the current president, national assembly and state governors complete their terms. He added that the government would establish a national commission, select an electoral system and carry out a new population census before the next elections.

About the government’snational strategy, he said the administration has a comprehensive three-year plan that would help reduce poverty, improve quality of life and strengthen the rule of law.

“The key element of the plan is to develop the agriculture sector and encourage investments in the private sector, taking advantage of the vast resources of the country . The government is also developing Vision 2040 as a long-term plan”, he added.

Asked about thousands of South Sudanese who are expected to return from Sudan and about students, especially Arabic speaking, he said President Salva Kiir has issued directives to provide job opportunities to the returnees, especially in the private sector. The government would train students who have studied in Arabic medium and send them abroad to improve their English language.

About the role of the media, the minister said the government would allow freedom of expression that would lead to democracy in accordance with the South Sudan constitution. The mass media environment is liberal. The Ministry of Information has drafted a media bill to facilitate freedom of information and freedom of expression. “However, journalists should follow the media ethics; they should be more careful. We will not allow any publication to destabilise the country or ignite hatred,” he added.

Southern Sudan has a national TV channel, 25 radio channels and more than 13 English newspapers and three magazines, he added.

About economic opportunities in South Sudan, the minister said the economy of the country is rural-based and subsistent in nature. South Sudan has great agricultural potential. Of its 82 million hectares of land surface, more than half is estimated to be suitable for agriculture, he added.

Talking about industry, the minister said that currently, the largest manufacturing plant is Southern Sudan Beverages Ltd, which produces beer and soft drinks. Manufacturing sectors, including sugar, textile, cement, fruit, vegetable and timber, were wiped out during the war. The minister said his country would start building a modern railway line linking it with the North and neigbouring countries.

He said about 15 domestic and international airlines are operating in Southern Sudan. There is one international airport handling over 80 flights per day and a passenger terminal is under construction. There is also a plan to extend the runway.

Dr Benjamin said three ports in Jongli state has been upgraded and there is a plan to degrade rivers to facilitate smooth and safe movement of vessels.

The government is planning to expand Juba Airport and a world-class terminal building is already under construction, the minister concluded.


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