South Sudan to open first game park next year

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JUBA, Sudan, Oct 6 (Reuters) South Sudan will invite bidders to run its first game park hotel set in the elephant-rich area of Nimule on the border with Uganda, the Wildlife Ministry's director-general for tourism said.

Joseph Oroto said they had almost completed the renovation of a 42-bed lodge set on a hill with views over the White Nile's sweeping entrance from Uganda to Sudan where some 50 herds of elephants drink.

''We will invite bidders from the private sector to run it,'' said Oroto about the lodge set in the 410 sq km Nimule Park, which was established in colonial Sudan in 1939 because of its rolling landscape and exceptional fauna.

''Phase one, the renovation, is almost completed,'' Oroto said. ''We should see the first clients by next April.'' Decades of civil conflict that ended with a 2005 peace deal meant that while tourism in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda has boomed, south Sudan has been a no-go area.

The area has a small airstrip and is three hours by road from south Sudan's capital Juba. A private firm will begin repairing the road next year.

Oroto said his ministry had so far spent half of the 4,000 budget for the project on the renovation work. A conference hall and a water system are next on the list.

His ministry's total budget will be doubled to 30 million dollars next year, indicative of the government's commitment to wean the south off its dependency on its share of Sudan's oil revenue towards other sectors, he said.

''We have giant migrations, recent aerial surveys indicate of millions of animals, we have scenery and a very rich variation of cultures,'' Oroto said.

The civil war, Africa's longest, which killed some 2 million people also preserved animal communities including two otherwise rare gazelles endemic to the south.

Wildlife Minister James Loro Siricio said that while the south's first tourists may be the ''adventurous'' type, gradual road development would open up 13 game reserves and six national parks, two of which cover 44,000 sq km alone.

REUTERS SKB VC1916

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