By Mading Ngor
JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan has appointed its first ambassador to the United Nations, bolstering a small and inexperienced diplomatic corps which has been struggling to make the new nation's case in disputes with Sudan over oil and the shared border.
South Sudan seceded from its northern neighbor in July last year under a 2005 peace deal, and has been trying to build up state institutions after decades of devastating civil war.
Nearly a year after declaring independence, Juba had only managed to set up about half of the 22 embassies it set as its initial goal, the foreign minister told Reuters in June.
Francis Deng, a respected scholar and former special adviser to the U.N. Secretary General on the prevention of genocide, has been appointed South Sudan's permanent representative to the United Nations.
Deng told Reuters he would work to improve the South's "waning" image abroad, but that it would not be easy.
"South Sudan has gone from people being very sceptical about its independence to supporting it, to now feeling somewhat negative," he said.
Having a UN ambassador could help South Sudan gain other nations' support in its disagreements with Sudan. The two countries have yet to work out a list of issues related to partition, and the disputes have at times turned violent.
In April, South Sudan occupied an oil-producing region long held by Sudan, provoking widespread condemnation. South Sudan said the land was disputed, but its poor diplomatic presence made that case harder to sell, diplomats said at the time.
South Sudan withdrew from the region under pressure, and tension has since eased.
Deng said he hoped for a breakthrough between the two sides at African Union-brokered talks resuming this week in Ethiopia.
"I believe that we have probably gone through the worst already, and that an agreement is in sight," he said. "In fact the agreement has been reached, it's just that it's supposed to be a package and so the other elements have to be included."
A deal between the two sides on border security could open the way to resuming oil exports, which the landlocked South shut down in January in a dispute with Khartoum over how much it should pay to send the crude through Sudan.
The move wiped out 98 percent of South Sudan's state revenues, and Deng said this would affect the funds available for diplomats representing the South.
"I'm quite impressed the South has been able to function this far with no revenues from oil," he said. "I still don't fully understand how that's possible."
South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to secede in a 2011 referendum promised by the peace deal that ended the civil war. Some 2 million people died in the conflict, fought over religion, ethnicity, oil and ideology.
(Reporting by Mading Ngor; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Tim Pearce)