ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - South Sudan has set up only about a dozen embassies in the year since the world’s newest nation declared independence and an oil output shutdown is slowing efforts to expand its diplomatic presence abroad, the foreign minister said.
South Sudan entered the world stage when it broke away from Sudan in July last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
The country is now eager to boost its presence in Asian countries including China, India and Malaysia - all potential sources of capital for infrastructure projects and development aid, Foreign Minister Nhial Deng told Reuters in an interview.
So far Juba has managed to establish only about half of the 22 embassies it set as its initial goal, and might be further hampered since shutting down oil production in January amid a row with Khartoum over transit fees, said Deng.
“We already have a mental picture for where we want to go, an idea of which are the countries that are important for us to establish embassies in. The only hurdle is resource constraints,” he said.
Some embassies are not fully functioning and in Western Europe, South Sudan has embassies only in London, Paris and Brussels, diplomats have said.
Strengthening diplomacy is particularly important for the new nation as it tries to make its side of the story heard in a long-running dispute with Khartoum over issues left unresolved after the partition.
Those include the exact position of the new border, the status of citizens on each other’s territory, the division of debt and, vitally, how much the landlocked South should pay to export oil through pipelines running through Sudan.
South Sudan took about three-quarters of Sudan’s crude output when it split away, but the two failed to agree on transit fees. Juba shut down output in January after Khartoum started taking some oil it said was to make up for unpaid fees.
That instantly erased 98 percent of government revenues in South Sudan, which has almost no industry outside oil and is struggling to build a functioning state almost from scratch.
Tensions boiled over in April when South Sudan and Sudan clashed in an oil-producing border region, pushing the two closer to an all-out war than at any time since independence.
South Sudan seized the Heglig oilfield near the disputed border from Khartoum’s control, sparking widespread international criticism and pressure for it to pull out.
“We were surprised by the ferocity of the reaction but I think we managed to blunt this criticism and this attitude by availing the facts about the situation,” said Deng.
He said the South had managed to present “factual historical information” showing Heglig had not always been part of “what is now the republic of Sudan”.
“For the first time now you find that the international community is no longer 100 percent sure that Heglig belongs to the north,” he said.
Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Ralph Gowling