Staff writer Japan for the first time will provide official yen loans to Swaziland, a landlocked country surrounded by Mozambique to the north and South Africa to the south, government sources said Wednesday. The loans will finance a road project that will eventually link the southern African country with the capitals of its two neighbors — Pretoria and Maputo. More importantly, the road will give the country access to Maputo’s port facilities, thereby boosting its export ability. The sources said that in response to a funding request from Swaziland, Japan has already dispatched a mission from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to examine the project. The JBIC is a government aid organ created on Oct. 1 through a merger between the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund and the Export-Import Bank of Japan. A final decision on the provision will be made early next year, and the yen loans will actually be extended to Mbabane by next summer, the sources said. Although the exact amount of loans has yet to be determined, the sources said it will probably reach several billion yen. The road will reach northward from Mbabane and eventually intersect with the “Maputo Corridor,” another highway under construction between Pretoria and Maputo. The sources referred to Maputo as a bustling port city. Swaziland is heavily dependent on South Africa economically, but the road, once constructed, will help the landlocked Swaziland increase shipments of sugar, it’s main export, and mineral resources, the sources said. Swaziland is a monarchy that gained independence from Britain in 1968. Although relations between Japan and Swaziland have so far been relatively weak, the southern African country has shown an increasingly strong desire for closer bilateral ties, especially in the economic area, the sources said. Swaziland’s head of state participated in the second Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD-II, as the conference is better remembered, in Tokyo last fall. Japan has provided only grant-in-aid and technical cooperation to Swaziland since the early 1990s. Many African countries, especially those in the sub-Saharan portion, are ranked among the world’s poorest countries. Because of their inability to repay external debts, Japan’s provision of official yen loans is now limited to a few developing countries on the continent. Japan decided to provide yen loans to Swaziland by summer after concluding that the country is able to repay the loans, the sources said. Although Swaziland has a small population, about 900,000, the country’s per capita annual income is relatively high, at some $2,000, the sources said. Although the Group of Eight major countries agreed at a summit in Cologne, Germany, in June to forgive official debts owed by heavily indebted poor countries, or HIPCs, Swaziland is not on the list of HIPCs because of its relatively high level of income.

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