South Sudan said Tuesday that Sudan, its northern neighbor that controls the region's pipelines, has blocked the movement of 3.4 million barrels of oil belonging to the south since December.
After breaking away from Sudan in July to become the world's newest country, South Sudan gained control of nearly three quarters of the formerly unified country's oil fields, which produce around 500,000 barrels per day.
The loss of the oil has cost Khartoum around half of its yearly revenue, and the two countries are currently negotiating revenue sharing and pipeline fees to help the north meet that budget shortfall.
But the South Sudan's Minister of Petroleum and Mining Stephen Dhieu Dau told a news conference on Tuesday that the north has prevented 3.4 million barrels from reaching the market, and said Sudan ordered 550,000 barrels belonging to the south to be delivered to one of Khartoum's buyers.
"They want to steal, to loot the resources of South Sudan," Dau said.
Dau said that one ship carrying 1 million barrels of southern oil was blocked from leaving Port Sudan on Dec. 31, while a second carrying 600,000 barrels was stopped Jan. 3. A third ship entered port on Jan. 6 but has not been allowed to collect its 600,000-barrel cargo. The minister said two more ships scheduled to receive a total of 1.2 million barrels of southern oil have not been allowed to enter the northern port.
"They are still waiting now in international waters on the Red Sea since the 22nd of December," said Dau.
South Sudan has called the blockade a theft of their natural resources in violation of international law.
Two spokesmen for Sudan's government did not answer calls seeking comment.
Officials in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, have proposed a fee of about $36 per barrel for the use of the two pipelines. But the south says the fee amounts to extortion and has instead offered an average of 70 cents per barrel in addition to an aid package totaling $2.6 billion over four years.
The oil agreement still being negotiated is part of a host of outstanding issues from the region's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended more than 20 years of civil war between the two sides. After talks in Ethiopia broke down in November, the Sudan's government threatened to take 23 percent of southern oil shipped through its port as an "in kind" payment of fees.
On Tuesday, Dau said Khartoum was in the "final stages" of constructing a pipeline that would permanently divert 13 percent of all oil shipped through the north. According to Dau the consortium which operates the pipeline, Petrodar, has denounced the action as illegal.
In December, South Sudan accused the north of holding 1.6 million barrels of oil meant in part for China, prompting a visit by a Chinese envoy to help break the deadlocked negotiations.
Another round of oil negotiations are expected to begin Jan. 17. South Sudan has invited China to take part in the talks. South Sudan says it will not allow its resources to be interfered with by Khartoum and has threatened legal action if the blockade continues.
"Iraq tried to invade Kuwait because they wanted to take the oil of Kuwait," said South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Benjamin Marial. "You know what happened to Saddam Hussein."