Voice of America (Washington, DC)

South Sudan: President Launches Juba Airport Renovation Project

President Salva Kiir launched a multi-million renovation project at Juba International Airport Monday with a speech accusing former government officials of embezzling millions of dollars meant for infrastructure improvement projects.

Mr. Kiir insinuated in his speech that those he was accusing of massive corruption are now members of the opposition movement that is trying to topple his government. He did not name any names.

"This Juba airport has taken our money since 2005 and the people who did that are now the ones shouting outside after having squandered this money into their pockets," Mr. Kiir said.

"They are the ones who are accusing the government of corruption. But they used to bring the companies and ask for 30 percent or 40 percent downpayments. All this money has disappeared with people," he said.

Former vice president turned opposition leader Riek Machar and many of his supporters have gone into hiding or fled South Sudan since fighting broke out in mid-December.

Mr. Kiir vowed that none of the $158 million that has been allocated to improving the airport will go into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Chinese funding

The renovation project is being undertaken with China, "a friendly country ... who we believe is up to the task of building this international airport," Kiir said.

The upgrade will include extending the airport's runway from 2,400 meters to 3,100 meters, the construction of duty-free shops and more parking lots, and the expansion of immigration offices.

The project is expected to take 30 months to comlete and will be funded by China's Export and Import (EXIM) Bank.

Li Yi, the manager of the China-based Harbour Engineering Company that will carry out the airport construction, said he was "excited by the prospect that Juba International Airport will soon present itself to the whole world in a new appearance."

But to help the Chinese complete the project on time and on budget, Li urged South Sudan's leaders to restore peace in the country, which has been mired in conflict for the last seven months.

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