DUBAI // Representatives of what will soon be the world's newest country say they will open one of its first embassies in Abu Dhabi.
The vice president of the soon-to-be Republic of South Sudan, Riek Machar, made the announcement in Dubai yesterday after completing an official visit. He said he saw the UAE as a gateway for much-needed investment in his country, which will celebrate its independence on July 9.
"Before the declaration of independence we chose to come to the Emirates because we think this place is an outreach," said Mr Machar. "We can reach the rest of the world, particularly the Arab world and the Islamic world, and we want to strengthen our relations."
South Sudan also aims to set up a permanent trade bureau in the UAE, host an investment conference here in October and negotiate direct flights between the UAE and the southern Sudanese capital of Juba.
During the two-day trip, which ended yesterday, Mr Machar and his delegation met the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, and invited Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE to attend independence celebrations.
Mr Machar said an Emirati delegation was scheduled to attend the historic event, which was approved in a January referendum in southern Sudan by 99 per cent of voters and has won support from dozens of nations. The foreign ministry did not confirm South Sudanese plans to open an embassy here.
The UAE already has trade and investments in Sudan, mainly in services, industry and agriculture. From 2004 to 2008, bilateral trade rose 150 per cent, and in 2009 non-oil exports topped US$170million (Dh624.4m) and imports reached $635m. UAE investment in Sudan grew from $1.3billion in 2007 to $2bn in 2009.
In June last year, the UAE purchased 30,000 hectares of land to grow alfalfa as cattle feed. And, for a few years, an Emirati firm has been developing land in the eastern region of South Sudan for wildlife tourism akin to the safaris and resorts popular in Kenya. After independence, that development may be the first of its kind to welcome tourists, Mr Machar said.
Agriculture projects could include extended leases, in which the food goes to the investing country, he said. The arrangement is used among some countries that do not produce enough food, such as the UAE.
South Sudan is also seeking investors to improve oil production, which could reduce its dependence on the north. The southern region possesses most of the oil, while the north controls the pipelines and refineries, and both sides have yet to agree on how to share in the oil riches.
Northern and southern Sudanese expatriates living in the UAE welcomed Mr Machar's appeal for investment.
Salah Eldin Eltayeb, the secretary general of the Sudanese Social Club who is from the northern capital of Khartoum, said he understood the south's desire to be able to export oil independently of the north. "They have a right to have some fears," he said. "They are a little sceptical about having their portion cut or used by the north."
He praised any sort of investment in the south, saying it would have spillover effects. "Sudan's problems have developed because of the lack of investment," he said. "To me any investment - be it the south of Sudan or north of Sudan - is a positive step that is going to benefit the whole region."
Kennedy Danga, a Dubai-based engineer from the south of Sudan, said agricultural land leases were not a problem as long as enough food was kept at home.
"If we can produce food, and we can feed our people, and we can feed other people as well, that's a very, very positive thing," he said.
"There are a lot of investors in this country and if our government can explain to them to come to South Sudan, I think that's a very, very positive thing," he said.