WASHINGTON - South Sudan is cutting the number of staff at its embassies around the world because of economic troubles stemming from the two-year civil war.
Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin denied reports that South Sudan will close 10 diplomatic missions but admitted that his government has delayed paying rents for some of its embassies.
"What we are doing because of the economic crisis is that we are reducing the number of staff in our embassies in order to cut down on the costs,’’ Marial told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program in an interview late Monday.
Marial said the cuts will affect diplomatic missions which have large staffs. He said one such mission is South Sudan’s embassy in Cairo.
A source within the South Sudan Foreign Service who is not authorized to speak to the media said the Cairo Embassy was served with an eviction notice by its landlord for failing to pay rent since December.
The source also said landlords in Europe have taken the South Sudan government to court for not paying the rent for its embassies in Rome and Paris.
Marial denied the embassy in Egypt received an eviction notice but admitted that his ministry delayed paying the rent in Cairo.
"We have some economic problems; that is true, and that is why we have decided that we have to reduce the number of officials in some of those embassies, including the Cairo embassy. We have cut down the number of people who will remain in the embassy there," he said.
Since South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, the world’s youngest country has opened 32 embassies.
In a sign the Foreign Ministry is overstretched, diplomats in those missions have not been paid since November.
The foreign minister said the delays are due to the country’s economic crisis coupled with lack of oil revenues because of insecurity around oil fields in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states.
He said the ministry of finance and central bank are trying to resolve the problem but could not say when the diplomats will get their paychecks.
South Sudanese diplomats working in the capitals of Ghana and Zimbabwe were evicted from their apartments because they could not pay their rents.
A South Sudanese diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reaction, told VOA four diplomats in Harare have taken temporary shelter at the residence of the South Sudanese ambassador.
Marial admitted that diplomats in Accra and Harare have found it hard to pay their rents but said the problems were the result of local circumstances.
"Accra and Harare, I think they are going on well," he said. "There was a delay, but they resolve some of that problem. In Accra, I think they had a problem in the building, because part of the building got burned, I think that is why they have a crisis," he said.
South Sudan’s National Legislative Assembly summoned Marial last year to discuss what some lawmakers consider his ministry's poor performance.
The parliamentary committee for foreign affairs accused the ministry of employing unqualified personnel and sending them to foreign missions.
The chairman of the committee, Philip Thon, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gets $8.5 million per month to fund its embassies abroad.
Marial defends his ministry’s spending, saying, "Foreign ministries everywhere throughout the world are quite an expensive institution to run." The minister said most of the funds are used for what he calls the ‘’national interest’’ of South Sudan.
Fighting between forces of President Salva Kiir and supporters of his former deputy, Riek Machar, erupted in December 2013. Since then, clashes have killed tens of thousands and forced more than 2 million South Sudanese from their homes.
The sides signed a peace accord in August but have yet to form a transitional government of national unity as called for in an agreement.