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    21 March, 2014
Joaquim Chissano mediates in Lake Niassa dispute
Maputo, 21 Mar (AIM) – Delegations from the Malawian and Tanzanian governments met in Maputo on Thursday to discuss their border dispute, in the presence of a mediation team headed by former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano.
The other members of the mediation team are the former presidents of South Africa and Botswana, Thabo Mbeki and Festus Mogae.
The dispute concerns Lake Niassa (known as Lake Malawi to the Malawians). Based on a 19th century treaty between Britain and Germany, Malawi lays claim to the entire northern part of the lake. Tanzania, however, adheres to the normal international practice that shared bodies of water should be divided down the middle.
This is roughly the case with the southern part of the lake which is shared more or less equitably between Malawi and Mozambique (although there are some Malawian islands on what is clearly the Mozambican side of the lake).
At the Thursday meeting, Chissano called for a “serious and responsible” attitude from Malawi and Tanzania in order to solve the dispute.
He urged the two delegations to produce a proposed solution that would be agreeable to both countries and would not harm the interests of their peoples.
“As a mediation team”, he said, “we see our task as helping the parties achieve a final and overall agreement between them, with the aim of strengthening still further the long-lasting ties between the people of Malawi and Tanzania, from which all will emerge as winners”.
“With open dialogue and mutual understanding, and united by the same goal of cementing relations and building common prosperity, it is possible to find a solution that brings mutual benefits”, he added.
He said that colonialism has disappeared from Africa, but “one of the colonial legacies in our region is this border dispute over Lake Niassa”.
But there was not much sign of flexibility in the public positions taken by the leader of the Malawian delegation, Foreign Minister Ephraim Chiume. He would not budge from the terms of the colonial treaty of 1890. The Anglo-German treaty established that the border between Malawi and Tanzania was formed by the east bank of the lake. In other words, the entire northern part of the lake belonged to Malawi.
“This is not a historical question or one of mere recognition”, Chiume said. “It’s a fact that the lake belongs to Malawi. Since the colonial epoch this was clear, and it was admitted at the time of the independence of our countries”.
He claimed that, unless the Malawian claim was accepted, the frontiers of all African countries would be under threat.
For his part, the Tanzanian Foreign Minister, Bernard Membe, said it was possible to demarcate the border without interfering in the relations between the two countries. He insisted that the principles of international law should be applied.
“Lake Niassa cannot be the exclusive property of any country, since it is shared, and its resources benefit Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique”, Membe said.
The dispute sharpened when recent studies showed that there are considerable amounts of hydrocarbons under the lake bed.
Both countries have agreed that, if the mediation by SADC (Southern African Development Community) fails, then the dispute will be referred to the International Court of Justice.
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