JUBA (Reuters) - It has virtually no roads and its economy is in tatters but South Sudan said on Thursday it plans to spend up to $4 billion in the next decade on building itself a 7,000 km (4,300 mile) road network.
Buoyed by his government recently sealing an oil deal with neighboring Sudan, Roads and Bridges Minister Gier Chuang Aluong told Reuters the new road network would link his country - Africa's newest nation - to both Sudan and Kenya.
South Sudan, a country which stretches across almost 240,000 square miles, has only 300 km (186 miles) of paved roads and most of the country is linked only by dirt tracks which are impassable during the summer rain season.
"As we talk today, some states are getting cut off because of the rains," Aluong told Reuters in his Juba office, underlining the scale of the challenge ahead. "There are some bridges which are being washed out."
Aluong said the plan - which is based on a similar idea floated a decade ago - would be funded from oil revenues and development loans. He did not say when the Sudan or Kenya roads would be ready.
He said he envisaged linking Juba by paved roads with Malakal and the White Nile port of Renk on the southern side of the border. The Juba link to the Ugandan border in Nimule has just been completed with the help of the United States.
Another road will link Juba with Kenya, which will shorten the time it takes to transport goods. Most of South Sudan's imports currently arrive in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast and are trucked from there via Uganda to Nimule, a trip that can last several weeks.
South Sudan recently struck a deal with Sudan agreeing how much it should pay to export its oil through northern pipelines, ending a dispute that had led to the shutdown of its entire output of 350,000 barrels a day.
Turning off the oil wells deprived one of the poorest countries in the world of 98 percent of state revenues.
The joint 1,800 kilometer (1,200 mile) border between the two former civil war foes has been closed since South Sudan became independent last July because of a dispute over its demarcation.
The closure has disrupted trade, sending inflation to 100 percent in some southern regions, and Sudanese traders have been unable to sell food and consumer goods to customers on the other side of the border.
Reporting by Mading Ngor; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Osborn