News / Africa

Sudan Oil Talks End With Recriminations, Large Rift

Pagan Amum, South Sudan's top negotiator in the oil dispute talks with Khartoum, speaks during a news conference in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, January 27, 2012.
Pagan Amum, South Sudan's top negotiator in the oil dispute talks with Khartoum, speaks during a news conference in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, January 27, 2012.

South Sudan has threatened to keep the oil pipeline to the Red Sea shut permanently following a failed round of talks on sharing revenues with Sudan. The shutdown is costing the two countries hundreds of millions of dollars a month. Six days of African Union-mediated talks ended Wednesday, with the two sides seemingly farther apart than when they began.

South Sudan's chief negotiator Pagan Amum emerged from a long night of negotiations saying he sees no reason to continue discussing oil payments with the Khartoum government.

"There is no agreement. There is no prospect of reaching an agreement on oil. Because the government of Sudan has taken a position which is hostile, of stealing our oil, robbing it at gunpoint. They are continuing to steal more oil from South Sudan," said Amum.

Focus on pipeline transit fees

The dispute centers on how much South Sudan is to pay the north for use of the pipeline that carries southern oil to Sudan's port on the Red Sea.

Amum showed reporters letters sent by oil companies in the past two days indicating Sudan was continuing to confiscate South Sudanese crude even as talks on revenue sharing were in progress. The Khartoum government says the oil is being taken as in-kind payment for fees they are owed.

A South Sudanese official said the oil taken by the north since the dispute began is valued at nearly $1 billion.

Bold declarations

Amum vowed to keep the pipeline shut until Sudan agrees to pay for all the confiscated oil. He said the south is moving ahead with plans to build another pipeline that would bypass the north.

"[It] is clear we cannot resume the flow of our oil through Sudan. Because the companies are telling us Khartoum has taken the decision to unilaterally take our oil by force. So there is no way South Sudan can again venture to pump its oil through Sudan. We have to build an alternative pipeline," said Amum.

When it was pointed out that it takes time to build a pipeline, Amum said it had taken less than 11 months to build the line from the oilfields to Port Sudan, a distance of about 1,700 kilometers.

Amum, who also is secretary-general of South Sudan's ruling party, said he would attend another African Union [AU]-mediated session of talks next week. He said Khartoum must agree, however, to pay for oil it seized before discussions can begin on reopening the pipeline.

Intractable positions

Sudanese negotiators agree that the outlook for the future of the talks is grim. Sabir Hassan represented the Khartoum government in the oil negotiations. He said neither side appears willing to back down from hardline positions.

"In this status quo, it will be difficult. I think they made a strategic mistake by this shutdown decision, because by shutting down now we are completely separate," said Hassan. "We have hit the bottom. Nothing else could be added for us, for the north there is nothing more. So we just wait and see."

South Sudan took three-quarters of the oil when it gained independence last July, but all the export facilities are controlled by the north.  Sudan's Hassan said in the end the two neighbors must put aside their hostilities and find a way to cooperate or both will be losers.

"The south has most of the oil fields, the north have all the infrastructure.  The south without using the infrastructure will not benefit from its oil.  The north without having the oil exported through its infrastructure will not benefit, so if they don't cooperate, both lose.  If they cooperate and share, both win. "

The next round of talks is scheduled to begin February 22 in Addis Ababa. A member of the AU mediation team said those negotiations will be limited to three members on each side, in an attempt to foster more serious and constructive dialogue.

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