By Skye Wheeler
JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Global brewer SABMiller said it would launch a new lager in south Sudan, the first beer produced there since Islamic law shut down the region's last brewery 25 years ago.
Alcohol was banned in Sudan after the northern Khartoum-based government brought in Sharia law in 1983.
But the country's south won the right to a semi-autonomous secular government in the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war between the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian and animist south.
"We will not only be consuming but producing alcohol. It's a serious political message of one country, two systems," the south's agriculture minister Samson Kwaje told Reuters at the SABMiller launch Tuesday.
He said he did not think the introduction of a new beer in South Sudan would aggravate already tense relations between Khartoum and the south's capital Juba.
Nigel Fairbrass, spokesman for London-based SABMiller, said the as-yet unnamed beer would be produced in a new plant in Juba, part of an ongoing investment that has cost the company $37 million.
The company became convinced there would be a strong market for a south Sudanese brand after seeing the amount of SABMiller beer the region was importing from Uganda, he added.
The company said its subsidiary Southern Sudan Beverages Limited would employ 250 people once the beer was launched in February, and also would produce soft drinks.
South Sudan was flooded with crates of expensive imported beer after the 2005 peace deal, most of it from Uganda.
Even before the accord, consumption of alcohol continued in rural areas of the rebel-held south but this was mostly locally brewed sorghum beer.
Kwaje said SABMiller had expressed interested in sourcing cereals locally for the brew.