Sudan frees ships held in S Sudan oil row
Khartoum - Sudan on Sunday released three oil tankers held in a dispute with breakaway South Sudan, which has accused Khartoum of theft, the foreign ministry said.
"Today the three ships left. The last one departed at 15:00," foreign ministry spokesperson Al-Obeid Meruh told AFP.
He added that President Omar al-Bashir had ordered the tankers' release even though they had not paid fees for using the Red Sea port.
The vessels contained 2.2 million barrels of South Sudanese oil.
A Sudanese official announced on Saturday in Addis Ababa, where the two sides failed to resolve a dispute over oil fees, that the ships were free to go as a goodwill gesture.
Sudan had hoped the South would reverse a protest shutdown of its oil facilities as a result, but Juba's petroleum and mining minister, Stephen Dhieu Dau, said freeing the ships would not be enough.
"The stolen crude must be paid back to South Sudan," Dau said.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir last week accused Khartoum of stealing $815 million worth of crude oil since December, largely by blocking four ships in Port Sudan and preventing four others from collecting their purchases.
In November, Sudanese officials announced the country would take 23% of the south's vital oil exports as payment in kind during the fee dispute.
Landlocked South Sudan split from Sudan in July after decades of war. It took with it three quarters of the country's oil, but all pipeline and export facilities are controlled by Sudan.
The two countries disagree over how much Juba should pay for using the north's pipeline, port and other infrastructure.
With talks stalled, the South said on Sunday it had nearly completed a shutdown of its oil production - the fledgling nation's top revenue source.
Tensions have also been raised over the neighbours' still undemarcated border - cutting through oil fields - as well as mutual allegations that each side backs proxy rebel forces against the other.
The crisis between the two nations has become a major threat to regional peace and security, the UN chief Ban Ki-moon told an African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday.