Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Malawi pulls out of border dispute talks

President Jakaya Kikwete meets his Malawian counterpart, Ms Joyce Banda, for talks on the sidelines of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Maputo on August 18. The two leaders discussed the border dispute between their countries. PHOTO | FILE

By The Citizen Reporters

Dar/Lilongwe. Malawi has pulled out of discussions on its border conflict with Tanzania, President Joyce Banda announced yesterday. This development comes after Tanzania recently published a new map marking the boundary between the two countries bang in the middle of Lake Malawi, which is officially known as Lake Nyasa on the Tanzania side.

Addressing her nation upon her arrival from a United Nations meeting in New York, President Banda said she had asked the ministry of Foreign Affairs to officially call off the talks between the two countries.

“When I was leaving the country for the UN, I thought the issue with Tanzania was sorted out and that we were going to pursue dialogue,” she added. “However, in the period I have been away, Tanzania launched a new map. They are harassing our fishermen and sailing boats in our lake.”

The matter would have to be taken to another level, President Banda said, especially since Tanzania has reportedly threatened to blow up any Malawian boat that sails on the lake.

According to President Banda, she discussed the matter with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and informed him of Malawi’s intention to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice in Rome.President Banda said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete had assured her at a meeting in Mozambique that the matter would be resolved peacefully and she was surprised that, when he addressed Tanzanians, Mr Kikwete accused Malawi of denying them access to the lake.

“I was about to go to Tanzania to pay a courtesy call on President Kikwete, but I have advised the Ministry of foreign affairs to write them informing them of the pull-out,” she added.

But the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr John Haule, told The Citizen last night that the Tanzanian government had yet to receive any official communication from the Malawian government.

In the meantime, he said, the ministry would get touch with the Tanzanian High Commission in Malawi to establish the true position.  “What I understand is that our minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation [Bernard Membe] met with his Malawian counterpart in New York at the just-ended UN General Assembly and agreed to schedule another meeting in Dar es Salaam next week between October 7 and 10.  In fact, I have been busy preparing for that meeting.”

Tanzania published the new map about a month after a five-day meeting in Lilongwe to resolve the dispute ended in a stalemate. Both ministers of Foreign Affairs of Malawi and Tanzania told journalists after the August meeting that the border dispute was complex and it would probably take some time to resolve.  In a brief statement, Malawian Foreign Minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume said Malawi believed the dispute would be resolved amicably. “Malawi’s position is that this matter will be resolved peacefully,” he said then.

Mr Membe said then that there was no quick fix for the border dispute and there would be no “shortcuts”. He added that Malawi and Tanzania agreed to continue the negotiations until the matter was resolved. “This is not a unique case,” he said. “There are precedents.”

The two sides had reportedly agreed to meet again from September 10 to 15, but Malawi requested a postponement.The new map was meant to clear the “confusion”, according to the director of survey and mapping in the Tanzanian ministry of Land, Housing and Human Settlement Development, Dr Selasie Mayunga.

“In the new map, the boundary between Tanzania and Malawi is in the middle of Lake Nyasa as it is shown in the old map,” Dr Mayunga said last month. He urged institutions and individuals to contact the ministry for copies of the new map.

Malawi claims it owns the whole of Lake Nyasa on the basis of a 1890 treaty between former colonial powers Britain and Germany which, it says, was later reaffirmed by the Organisation of African Unity when the country gained its independence in the early 1960s.

But President Jakaya Kikwete said earlier this month that the Anglo-Germany Treaty that gave Malawi sole ownership of the whole lake was flawed and Tanzania had every reason to demand a review.Dr Mayunga said the new map would also help end land conflicts and the growing problem of poor land use that has put urban authorities in a difficult position. 

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