South Sudan's information minister has said the country has been offered $8 billion in development funds by China. The loans follow President Salva Kiir's first official visit to Beijing.
Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said on Saturday that China had offered South Sudan $8 billion (roughly 6 billion euros) in development loans. The minister said the money would fund initiatives including roads, hydropower, infrastructure, telecommunications and agriculture projects.
South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, visited China last week for the first time.
"China has offered financial funding to the value of $8 billion for major development projects," Benjamin said, adding that the funds would be provided over two years, with Chinese companies carrying out the projects.
The minister also said China would "consider" a request to finance an alternative oil pipeline to Kenya's northern coast that would bypass Sudan's pipelines.
South Sudan's government is almost entirely dependent on oil revenues - and on transportation via Sudanese pipelines. The recent, increased tensions with Sudan have almost halted oil production, with fierce fighting in the oil-rich area on the border between the two countries. South Sudan gained independence in a referendum last year.
The South's president Salva Kiir made his first official visit to Beijing last week, where he met with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.
The split of Sudan has put China in a precarious position, as it has close economic ties with oil operations in the South, while also being a major supporter of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Foreigners arrested "in Heglig"
The Sudanese military said on Saturday that four foreigners had been arrested in the disputed Heglig oil field, the site of fighting between Sudan and South Sudan in recent weeks.
"It is now confirmed without any doubt that South Sudan used the help of foreigners in their attack on Heglig. These foreigners were doing military work such as spying out the areas," army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told reporters. "The had military equipment … they have a military background."
He said the group had been flown to the capital Khartoum after being arrested while traveling with a South Sudanese soldier.
Jan Ledang, country director for the Norweigan People's Aid (NPA) mission in South Sudan, said one of the captives was NPA employee John Sorbo. Reuters cited a witness as saying four men arrived on a civilian plane at Khartoum's military airport Saturday, with one of them wearing an NPA t-shirt.
"It's impossible that they were in Heglig - they were in Pariang," Ledang said, referring to an area roughly 90 minutes' drive away from Heglig. He said they were doing demining work in that area.
A spokesman for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Josephine Guerrero, said the four people were on a demining mission in South Sudan, also saying "one of them was from the UN."
The Heglig oil field, now out of action pending repairs, was occupied by Southern forces for several days earlier this month, coinciding with Sudanese airstrikes against the South. Sudan says it repelled them, the South says they withdrew of their own accord. Both sides blame each other for damages to the oil facility.
msh/nrt (AFP, Reuters)