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ICJ to start hearing Kenya, Somalia maritime dispute in September

Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  last week said Kenya had written to Somalia seeking a withdrawal of the dispute from ICJ, to pave way for a negotiated solution/FILE – ICJ

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 27 –The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is set to convene on September 9 to listen to oral submissions by parties in the maritime delimitation dispute between Kenya and Somalia.

The Hague-based court will hear the first round of oral submissions from September 9 to September 11 with the second round set for September 12 to September 13, according to a schedule published by the court’s Information Department on Tuesday.

Somalia filed the boundary delimitation dispute on August 28, 2014, staking a claim on an estimated 62,000 square miles oil-rich triangle in the Indian Ocean.

Mogadishu’s case is premised on Article 15 of the Convention of the Law of Sea adopted in 1982, Kenya saying the disputed area was in fact under its jurisdiction before the convention was enacted.

Somalia country wants the sea boarder extended along the land boarder; a plea which if granted could limit Kenya’s access to high seas on its Indian Ocean shore technically rendering the country landlocked.

Counsel representing Somalia had been given until June 18, 2018 to file its written submissions with Kenya required to file responses by December 18 of the same year.

Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week said Kenya had written to Somalia seeking a withdrawal of the dispute from ICJ, to pave way for a negotiated solution.

Kenya has since the filing of the suit in 2014 maintained that Somalia acted in bad faith since the two countries had committed to a mediated solution as opposed to a court process.

Relations between Kenya and Somalia have soured in recent months after Mogadishu allegedly offered oil blocks in the disputed territory at a prospectors’ auction in London on February 7.

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Kenya moved to court in 2016 to challenge the admissibility of Somalia’s case on grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter but the court dismissed the objection in February 2017.

Tensions between the two countries escalated in February after Nairobi recalled its diplomat in Mogadishu, Lt. General (Rtd) Lucas Tumbo, for what Foreign Affairs Principla Secretary Macharia Kamau termed as “urgent consultations”.

The Foreign Office also referred the Somali envoy, Ahmed Nur, to Mogadishu but denied claims that the move amounted to expelling the diplomat over simmering tension.

While making the unprecedented announcement on February 16, PS Kamau accused Somalia of unilaterally selling off oil and gas blocks in the disputed maritime territory at a London auction on February 7 terming the move “unparalleled affront on Kenya” adding the “illegal grab” will not go unanswered.

“This outrageous and provocative auction deserves and will be met with a unanimous and resounding rejection by all Kenyans as well as all people of goodwill who believe in the maintenance of international law and order and the peaceful and legal resolution of disputes,” Amb Kamau said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed travelled to Kenya on March 6 in a bid to resolve escalating tension between Nairobi and Mogadishu in a visit that saw him mediate talks between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi at State House Nairobi.

A dispatch by Abiy’s office following the talks indicated that the two Kenyatta and Abdullahi address underlying issues.

“Through the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed, Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohammed Abdullahi met this morning to discuss extensively on the source of the two countries dispute. As an outcome both agreed to work towards peace and to take measures in addressing particular issues that escalated the tensions,” Ahmed’s office said.

MFA PS Macharia Kamau welcomes Somalia Ambassador Ahmed Nur back in Nairobi on May 14 after the two countries normalized relations/ FILE

There was however a resurgence of tension between Kenya and Somalia in May after three Somali officials who were said to be holders of diplomatic passports were turned away at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

Somali Deputy Minister of Water and Energy Osman Libah and Senators Ilyas Ali Hassan and Zamzam Dahir were turned away on arrival at the JKIA for lack of visas with  Mogadishu decrying the “detention and confiscation of passports” of its officials.

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The foreign ministry downplayed the May 20 incident with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma saying the incident was purely an immigration matter.

“You all know that all of us travel with visas. So if you really don’t have a visa it would really be very difficult to enter a country. I don’t have the specifics of the case but I’d be very surprised if anybody was turned away with a visa,” she told the press on May 21.

PS Macharia affirmed the ministry’s position on May 23 saying the refusal of entry to three Somali officials was not unique and that immigration and security clearance restrictions had affected other countries in the region.

“There’s no diplomatic row. Why do we sensationalize the pettiest of issues? It’s just an immigration incident and not a diplomatic row and this sometimes happens for immigration, security, or other reasons. It happens to Ugandans, South Sudanese, and others,” he said.

Mogadishu had on May 21 protested Kenya’s actions as destabilizing adding that they contravened the neighborly bond that exists between the two nations.

Mogadishu also took issue with the reinstatement of mandatory security screening stops at Wajir for all inbound flights from Somalia.

“The Government of Somalia also expresses its concern with regards to the reinstitution of a mandatory stopover in Wajir ostensibly for purposes of conducting additional security checks on Somalia passengers,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“This is inconsistent with an agreement reached between our two governments in respect to conducting direct flights from Mogadishu to Nairobi,” the ministry indicated.

Amb Kamau dismissed the claims as diversionary.

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“Let’s not play into people who do not want to see our country excel. We’re amazingly friendly to Somalia and we’ve been amazingly facilitating of the people of Somalia. We just need to understand each other that they need to respect our territorial integrity and we need to respect that we’ve needs that we need to try and avail for them,” the PS told a media briefing on May 23.

Kenya and Somalia agreed to normalize relations on April 3 following a meeting between CS Juma and her Somali counterpart Ahmed Issa Awad.

“We reaffirmed our strong desire to normalize relations and agreed, as a first step, to have our ambassadors return to their stations,” MFA tweeted.

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