South Sudan leader makes first visit to Israel

AFP , Tuesday 20 Dec 2011

In an attempt to further cement their ties, South Sudan's President makes his first visit to Israel, engaging in discussions over the thousands of migrants crossing into Israel

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Israeli President Shimon Peres and President of South Sudan Silva Kiir in Jerusalem, Tuesday (Photo: AP)

Israel's premier and president pledged their support for the fledgling state of South Sudan on Tuesday in talks with visiting President Salva Kiir, official statements said.

Kiir met Israeli President Shimon Peres during the morning, then held a working lunch with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a flying visit of less than 24-hours, his first to the Jewish state.

"I am very moved to come to Israel and to walk on the soil of the promised land," Peres's office quoted Kiir as saying.

"As a nation that rose from dust, and as the few who fought the many, you have established a flourishing country that offers a future and economic prosperity to its children," Kiir said. "I have come to see your success."

Peres said that as deputy defence minister he had met with south Sudanese leaders in the 1960s when Israel gave them "extensive assistance in agriculture and infrastructures."

"Israel has supported, and will continue to support, your country in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it," Peres said.

Following talks with Netanyahu, his bureau announced that an Israeli delegation "would shortly go to South Sudan in order to examine how to aid the people, who underwent great suffering in recent years, to develop their new state."

Kiir was to meet Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during the afternoon before leaving in the early evening, officials said.

Israel recognised South Sudan and established full diplomatic relations with Kiir's government shortly after it declared independence in July following a 22-year civil war with the mostly-Muslim north.

The Jewish state does not have relations with Khartoum, which it has accused of serving as a base for Islamic militants, and instead supported the rebel movement of the mainly Christian and animist south during the war.

Israel's ties with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which is now the south's ruling party, have long been close, with the Jewish state allegedly providing arms during the war, although neither side has publicly acknowledged any weapons transfers.

Tuesday's meetings were expected to focus on the issue of Sudanese illegal migrants to Israel.

Thousands of migrants from the former united Sudan, including hundreds from the south are currently in Israel, which seeks to repatriate them.

So far, this year, more than 12,000 illegals have sneaked across the Egyptian border into southern Israel, the vast majority of them economic migrants from Africa, prompting Israel to ramp up measures to stop the flow.

Netanyahu has said he will visit Africa in the coming months to discuss the issue of illegal immigration, but did not say which countries he would visit.

Press reports suggested he would travel in February to visit Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, but he was not expected to visit South Sudan out of security concerns.

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