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Sudan Tribune

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South Sudan’s FM visits France, pledges to intensify relations with Europe

March 11, 2012 (JUBA) – South Sudan said on Sunday that bilateral relations with European countries, particularly France, were “growing well” and that its economic ties were making “positive” ground.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe (L) poses prior to talks with hisSouth  Sudanese counterpart Nhial Deng Nhial on March 8, 2012 at the Ministry in Paris. (Getty)
French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe (L) poses prior to talks with hisSouth Sudanese counterpart Nhial Deng Nhial on March 8, 2012 at the Ministry in Paris. (Getty)
South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nhial Deng Nhial, has returned from a bilateral trip to France. on 8 and 9 March Where he met French officials and business leaders.

“Our relations with European countries to which France belongs are starting and growing well,” Nhial told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

It was Deng’s first visit to France since South Sudan’s independence in July last year, which was attended by the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe.

Deng said his mission was “successful”, adding that the state reception he received was “a valuable sign of the quality of the existing bilateral relations between the two countries.”

The senior member of the country’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) said that as well as discussing bilateral relations they also discussed the role France could play in resolving the oil crisis between South Sudan and Sudan.

Since South Sudan’s independence Sudan has begun confiscating southern oil crude passing through its pipelines, saying it was payment in kind for unpaid fees.

South Sudan responded by instructing the oil companies working at its oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile states to halt production. Due to sanctions on the Khartoum government the oil companies with the biggest presence in Sudan and South Sudan are Chinese and Malaysian.

However, with South Sudan’s independence this could change with Juba indicating that it will review all contracts signed, while South Sudan still remain part of Sudan.

In February South Sudan expelled the Chinese head of Petrodar, a consortium of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Malaysia’s Petronas, on the grounds of “non-cooperation”.

Juba has warned Chinese companies operating in South Sudan that they face expulsion if they are proven to be complicit with Khartoum in confiscating South Sudan’s oil.

During his trip to Paris last week, Deng met with business leaders, who he said expressed desire and readiness to explore investment opportunities in South Sudan, including French oil giant Total.

In his meeting with Total officials, he urged the oil firm to resume its activities in Jonglei State where it holds a 110,000 square kilometers block with Texas-based Marathon Inc. and the Kuwait Petroleum Co. since 1981.

The French operator, which is enthusiastic after the return of the American Marathon to the tripartite consortium, expressed fears that the security situation in the South Sudan’s largest state might not allow the swift return of its teams to the region.

Marathon, due to the US economic sanctions on Sudan had to abandon its shares in the consortium, but since last year Washington lifted the sanctions on the newly independent South Sudan and encouraged business community to invest there.

Jonglei has witnessed large scale displacement caused by raids and counter raids between rivals groups killing over 1,000 in the last year. There are also rebel groups operating in state. South Sudan rebels have vowed to stop the building of new pipelines to circumnavigate Sudan and pipe oil to the Kenyan coast.

Deng said that he met a number of business groups and companies, whom he said expressed desire and readiness to come and explore existing investment opportunities in South Sudan.

“Besides bilateral relation discussions with the minister of foreign and European Affairs, I was able to meet with senior members of France parliament including business groups and heads of some companies”, he said.

“Most of them expressed desire and readiness to come. They just need our approval.”

Deng said that France was keen to assist the young nation reach a peaceful settlement with Sudan over the contested issues within the framework of mutual interests and bilateral cooperation of the negotiations currently under way in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

As well as oil, the two nations are discussing borders, citizenship, trade, debt and the status of the disputed Abyei region.

A senior diplomat at the ministry of foreign affairs, who did not want to be named, told Sudan Tribune the minister’s visit as “very important” because the country was in “real” need of foreign support to overcome the challenges facing the new nation.

The stoppage of oil production has deprived the government of 98% of its income and plans for a new pipeline, which analysts say could take far longer than the government’s estimate that it will be completed within the year.

Later this month Juba is hosting an event in order to try and encourage foreign investment.

The official said that France was one of the first western countries to establish and maintain a presence in Juba well before South Sudan officially became an independent state and opened an embassy on the same day that South Sudan seceded.

He said that France provides an more than 110 million Euros a year to support peacekeeping operations and development in the South Sudan. France is also involved in the water sector and the civil aviation sector.

“France provided 6 million euro to support water project in Yei. They are also providing humanitarian assistance to the populations affected by the crises in the country. One of such tangible humanitarian assistance I can talk of is the assistance to Jonglei crisis. They provided 200,000 Euro to help the victims of the most recent inter-tribal clashes in January,” he explained.