Thursday, February 22, 2024

Amid China foray, India to invite South Sudan president

As China steps up its ties with Juba amid its standoff with Khartoum, India is planning to invite South Sudan President Salva Kiir in a diplomatic outreach to build closer relations with the resource-rich country and secure its $3 billion investment across the two Sudans.

Amarendra Khatua, India’s special envoy, who returned after a second visit to Sudan and South Sudan – which broke away from Sudan last year to become an independent nation – mid-April, told IANS he has recommended to the foreign office a visit by Kiir to India. Dates will be worked out through diplomatic channels, he said.

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The visit will help consolidate India’s burgeoning relations with South Sudan, Africa’s newest country which was formally born on July 9, 2011 to become Africa’s 54th and the world’s 194th nation.

In his meetings with ministers and senior officials in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and South Sudan’s capital Juba, Khatua conveyed India’s support for the African Union roadmap and pushed for a presidential summit between leaders of the two countries to resolve all outstanding issues related to oil revenue-sharing, the contested border and citizenship.

“We are for an Africa-led solution to African problems. This position was conveyed to both sides,” Khatua, additional secretary in India’s external affairs ministry, who has been designated as New Delhi’s envoy to Argentina, told IANS.

The seven-point AU roadmap asks the two feuding countries to restart stalled negotiations in three months to reach an agreement to resolve all outstanding issues.

Although officials rule out any competition and rivalry between India and China in South Sudan as they are partners in a leading oil enterprise in that country, India has been watching closely accelerated efforts by Beijing to expand its influence in Juba.

Beijing has been a staunch ally of the Omar al-Bashir regime in Khartoum, but since the bifurcation of Sudan last year it has been stepping up its outreach to Juba, which is seen as an ally of the US and the West. China hosted Kiir April 24-26 and pledged aid worth around $200 million for a host of development projects.

India has enjoyed sturdy multi-faceted relations with both Sudan and South Sudan, but has recently focussed its energies on South Sudan, which is barely a year old and is in dire need of infrastructure and development.

India will do all it can to offer its assistance and technical know-how to that country, the Indian envoy said.

During Khatua’s second visit to Juba, India offered to set up a mobile refinery and launch a programme of electrification through solar panels, which will be developed along with the United Nations.

There was a note of urgency to Khatua’s visit as India fears that if a presidential summit is not held soon to resolve the festering issues, the continuing stand-off could spawn a full-scale humanitarian disaster for ordinary people on both sides of the border.

In an unusual diplomatic initiative, India had sent Khatua to talk to the leaders of the two countries first in March-end in the middle of a raging conflict over the transit fee. Since then, the conflict has worsened with South Sudan attacking the Heglig oil field last month and Sudan mounting a counter-operation to reclaim its territory.

This sent the alarm bells ringing in New Delhi as the fragile security situation threatened the interests of ONGC Videsh Limited, the overseas arm of India’s oil major, which has invested $3 billion in the oil industry spanning the two Sudans.

India’s OVL has a 25 per cent stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company in which China National Petroleum Corporation has 40 percent stake, Malaysia’s Petronas has 25 percent and Sudapet of Sudan has five percent.

The conflict, specially after South Sudan shut down its entire oil production in retaliation for the non-payment of oil transit fee in February, is costing India $400,000 a day.
This translates into a loss of $600 million for OVL.

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