JUBA, South Sudan
South Sudan's oil minister on Tuesday accused northern neighbor Sudan of stealing massive amounts of the south's oil, an accusation that comes the same day the two sides are to begin another round of negotiations over their formerly unified oil industry.
South Sudan's Minister of Petroleum and Mining Stephen Dhieu Dau told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Sudan is each day diverting about 120,000 barrels of oil pumped from the south through a recently constructed "tie-in" pipeline.
"This amounts to nearly 75 percent of the oil of South Sudan" being pumped through the line, Dau said.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July to become the world's newest country, and took about three-fourths of what had been Sudan's 500,000-barrel-a-day oil industry with it.
Oil runs both countries' economies, and the south's oil must run through Sudan's pipelines to get to port. But the two sides are nowhere near a deal on how to share revenues.
Dau's accusation comes just days after the government of Sudan announced that it was taking southern oil in lieu of pipeline transit fees it says the south is not paying. Oil officials in Khartoum said they began taking southern oil in December, but would not specify how much oil was being taken.
Dau said the seizures at Port Sudan coupled with the oil taken from the new pipeline amounted to nearly all of South Sudan's shares of oil pumped from its territory.
"This is a crime and it is a threat to peace and security," said Dau.
The two countries were to begin negotiations on Tuesday in Ethiopia primarily over the transit fees that South Sudan will pay to use the northern pipelines. South Sudan has offered to pay an average of $0.70 per barrel for the use of the two pipelines, but Khartoum has asked for $36 per barrel.
Khartoum's chief negotiator Sabir Mohammed Al-Hassan said Sunday the figure includes other fees that South Sudan will be required to pay, such as transportation fees, a transit fee, and a marine terminal fee.
But South Sudanese officials say the levies amount to theft. Dau warned that the south would take legal action against any foreign oil companies caught buying "the stolen oil."
Pagan Amum, the secretary general of South Sudan's ruling party, said on the sidelines of scheduled oil talks in Ethiopia that the theft of billions of dollars worth of oil by Sudan would probably cause the talks to collapse.
"Sudan should take note that the south's patience is close to reaching its expiration period," Amum said.
Amum said that Sudan is stealing oil "that would be the equivalent of purchasing two new pipelines a year, every year." Amum said an oil company on Monday alerted the south's government of another 750,000 stolen barrels worth $140 million.
Amum said the north has repeatedly threatened oil companies to load southern oil into its vessels. Copies of letters that backed these claims were distributed to journalists at a news conference.
Despite the difficulties, South Sudan is trying to expand its oil industry. Last week it signed its first post-independence oil deals with the state petroleum companies of China, India and Malaysia for oil-producing concessions in Unity and Upper Nile states. The agreements replaced exploration and production agreements made previously with the government of Sudan.
Associated Press reporter Luc van Kemenade in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.