Niger has stopped oil exports to China via its pipeline to Benin’s coast, Oil Minister Mahamane Moustapha Barke Bako said, intensifying the standoff between the West African neighbours.

According to Reuters, on Friday the minister oversaw the padlocking of a section of the 2,000km (1,243-mile) pipeline at the Agadem oilfield in eastern Niger.

Exports to China were flowing through the pipeline under an MOU with state-owned oil giant CNPC, worth $400m.

In May, Benin blocked crude exports via its port from landlocked Niger, leading to a souring of relations between the two West African nations. Benin has demanded that the Niger junta reopen its border to Benin’s goods and then normalise relations.

Earlier in June, Benin’s authorities detained five Niger nationals for allegedly entering Benin’s Seme-Kpodji pipeline terminal under false pretences.

Niger has rejected the charges and claims that the group was there to ensure the loading of crude, complying with a previously signed agreement.

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Bako said on state television: “We can’t just sit back while our oil is stolen by other people, because we are not there where it is loaded.”

According to Offshore Technology’s parent company, GlobalData, the pipeline started operations in 2023, but was interrupted following the July 2023 coup in Niger, which led regional political and economic bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to impose strict sanctions for more than six months.

ECOWAS lifted the sanctions on Niger in February 2024, but Niger has kept its borders closed to goods from Benin.

“No matter the price or how long it lasts, as long as Benin and WAPCO [West African Gas Pipeline Company] don’t let Niger attend the loading of our crude, we cannot reopen this tap,” Bako added.