The Hague, Netherlands | AFP |
Kenya on Monday rebuked Somalia for dragging it before the UN’s top court to defend a maritime border dispute that could decide the fate of potentially lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves.
In a hearing at the UN’s International Court of Justice, Kenya described as “absurd and hurtful” Somalia’s claims it had sought to steal crucial oil and gas reserves in a case which began in 2014.
Mogadishu’s case against Nairobi at the Hague-based court is an attempt to redraw the sea border in a move which would affect at least three of Kenya’s 20 offshore oil blocks.
Somalia says that talks have failed to find a solution to the increasingly bitter dispute, which could significantly impact a new source of revenue for either of the east African neighbours.
Somalia’s accusations of bad faith “are absurd as they are hurtful,” Kenya’s Attorney General Githu Muigai told judges at the ICJ, which was set up in 1946 to rule in disputes between countries.
“Somalia would have the court believe that during all these years, Kenya has been scheming to take advantage of its neighbour to steal its sea and oil,” he said.
At the heart of the dispute is how to draw the line of the sea boundary.
Somalia, which lies north of Kenya, wants it to continue along the line of the land border, in a southeast direction.
But Kenya wants it to go in a straight line east, along the parallel of latitude, giving it more sea territory.
‘Unfair and disrespectful’
The disputed triangle of water, which stretches over an area of more than 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles), is believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas in a part of Africa only recently found to be sitting on significant reserves.
A relative newcomer to the oil industry but one seen as having major potential, Kenya has awarded the three oil blocks to Italian energy company EniSpA.
Kenya says it has exercised uncontested jurisdiction over the disputed sea boundary since 1979, when it proclaimed its Exclusive Economic Zone.
It claims it had previously agreed with Mogadishu to resolve the disagreement “in negotiation through two coastal states”.
And in a memorandum of understanding dating back to April 2009, Mogadishu and Nairobi had expressly agreed not to take the case to the ICJ, they said.
Therefore the ICJ “was not competent to rule in the present case,” Kenya’s lawyers argued, asking judges to dismiss Somalia’s request.
Furthermore, Nairobi has been “a friend” to Mogadishu, helping it fight the jihadist Shabaab group in which “hundreds of Kenyan soldiers and civilians were killed,” Muigai said.
Mogadishu’s claims before the ICJ “are unfair and disrespectful of a government and people who sacrificed so much in support of Somalia,” he added.
The hearing continues on Tuesday with Somalia’s lawyers stating their case.
In its application before the court, Mogadishu said that “the inability of the parties to narrow the differences between them… have manifest the need for judicial resolution of this dispute.”
“Somalia… requests the Court to determine precise geographical co-ordinates of the single maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean,” it said.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on state radio Sunday in Mogadishu he was “confident that we will win that case”.
It could however take up to several months for the court to make a ruling.