The government in war-torn South Sudan said Wednesday it will not be expelling any foreign workers, reversing a policy announcement made the previous day that met with protests from aid agencies and neighbouring countries.
"We would like to make a clear statement that there is no statement in the Republic of South Sudan saying that they are expelling foreign workers in this country. The government of South Sudan is not expelling any foreign worker in South Sudan," Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters.
"I can assure the fellow Kenyans in this country, not only Kenyans alone but Ugandans, Eritreans, Ethiopians and all the other neighbouring countries who are here, they are all very much welcome to this country," he added.
On Tuesday the government published a decree ordering NGOs, private companies, hotels, banks, insurance, telecommunications and petroleum companies "to notify all aliens working with them in all positions to cease working" within a month.
It said the resulting vacancies, ranging from receptionists to company directors, should be filled by government-vetted South Sudanese nationals.
South Sudan has been gripped by civil war for the past nine months, with aid agencies warning that the world's youngest nation is on the brink of a man-made famine.
According to the United Nations, 1.3 million people have been displaced internally, and many of them are dependent on free food, shelter and healthcare delivered by a network of international aid groups.
The minister, however, appeared to suggest that the decree had been released prematurely, saying that the country's labour ministry was still in the process of working on employment regulations.
He said laws on which jobs could go to foreigners and which positions should be held by nationals "will be discussed later".
Tens of thousands of skilled workers from regional neighbours including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda are in the country, and together they run South Sudan's mobile telephone network, banking sector, upstream oil activities, hotels and other key infrastructure.
South Sudan itself suffers from a major shortage of skilled workers, with only around a quarter of the population able to read and write.