WASHINGTON — The United States called Monday on South Sudan to reach an agreement with Sudan to export its oil, saying that the one-year-old nation critically needed a source of revenue.
"One of the most immediate challenges for South Sudan is to take a hard, pragmatic and courageous approach to its current economic crisis. Without oil revenue, many development projects now on the books will be delayed," said Princeton Lyman, the US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.
Oil made up virtually all of South Sudan's revenue but the landlocked, Western-supported nation halted its exports in January in a row with Sudan over pipeline fees.
Dhanojak Obongo, the charge d'affaires at South Sudan's embassy in Washington, pointed to his government's agreement to build a pipeline to Djibouti and estimated it would be completed in 30 months.
But Lyman, speaking next to Obongo at the US Institute of Peace, said the assessment was "overly optimistic" and that the pipeline to Djibouti could take four to six years to complete.
"There has to be an agreement with Sudan in the interim that would allow the government to have a basic income that would enable it to function," Lyman said.
"The long term may indeed suggest alternative export facilities, but the new nation cannot afford to lose years of income when the development basis of the country is so low," he said.
South Sudan, which is largely Christian and animist, became independent under a peace agreement after two decades of fighting with the largely Arab and Muslim north that left dead around two million people.
Sudan initially won US praise for accepting the South's independence, but violence broke out in following months amid charges by Khartoum that the new nation was supporting rebels in ongoing conflicts.
Lyman voiced hope that South Sudan -- led by the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army -- would show a commitment to democracy.
South Sudan should "institutionalize basic freedoms to include the right of creating political parties and a vibrant, free civil society," he said.
"A free and unmolested press is a necessary component for a true democracy, ensuring that all voices and opinions may be heard and giving citizens an avenue to hold their government accountable," he said.
South Sudan's constitution promises freedom of speech but authorities have at times detained journalists who wrote critically of the government, according to the State Department's annual human rights report.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier issued a statement in which she praised South Sudan's "admirable" work on human rights and other areas but said that "significant challenges remain that threaten stability and prosperity."
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