South Sudan on Tuesday accused its northern neighbor Sudan of stealing more than 2.1 million barrels of oil, and warned buyers and shippers that they might face prosecution. The accusation has cast a pall over a new round of talks on sharing oil revenues.
South Sudan's chief negotiator at the African Union-mediated talks accused the Khartoum government of confiscating and selling southern oil, saying it is creating an economic and political crisis.
The oil is shipped from landlocked Southern Sudan by pipeline to Port Sudan, where it is loaded onto ships for export. The two countries produce about 500,000 barrels of oil a day.
Disputed oil transit fees
The Khartoum government this week said it would take part of the south's oil as compensation for transit fees, pending settlement of their dispute over how much the payments should be.
Southern negotiator Pagan Amoum on Tuesday showed reporters documents indicating that the north has seized three oil shipments in recent days worth more than $200 million. He said the action threatens to end the north-south talks.
"The government of Sudan, as we speak, has completed loading the stolen oil onto its vessels that now have cargo of stolen oil of South Sudan. This represents some $140 million of property of the people of South Sudan being taken away. And if you add the 750,000 [barrels] that may be starting to be loading today or tomorrow morning, it will amount to $215 million. This is an act of state piracy," said Amoum.
Oil-revenue sharing disagreement
As the talks were set to begin on Tuesday, the two sides remained far apart over the amount of oil revenue to be shared. The south has offered to pay a transit fee of less than $1 a barrel; Khartoum is asking for more than $32 a barrel.
Amoum said the north has blocked southern oil from leaving Port Sudan since December 25. He told reporters that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is risking a return to war by refusing to negotiate in good faith.
"President Bashir has become a danger to regional peace, and he's taking all what he wants whenever he wants at whims. This is not the way a responsible state within the international community operates, especially one that is trying to normalize relations with so many of the countries of the world. The government of Sudan has made clumsy pretexts in a thinly veiled attempt to justify its thievery," said Amoum.
South Sudan's warning
South Sudan Justice Minister John Luke warned that anyone buying stolen oil would be held responsible. He said investigations have already identified the companies that are purchasing the confiscated oil.
"We also would like to put the companies that are buying this illegally gotten oil of Southern Sudan from the government of Khartoum to a be on legal notice that this is the property of the Republic of Southern Sudan. And by dealing it and purchasing it, they are purchasing property to which the government of Sudan does not have any legal title and for that matter they will be subject to litigation," said Luke.
Oil is considered the backbone of the economies of Sudan and South Sudan. The south took more than 70 percent of the region's oil resources when it broke away from the north last July. But the oil can be exported only through the north.
China is the biggest investor in South Sudan's growing oil sector, and the largest consumer of Sudanese crude.