Diplomatic ties at risk over oil and gas blocks

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Kenya has halted diplomatic relations with Somalia after a spat over oil and gas blocks erupted into conflict.

Nairobi on Saturday expelled Somali ambassador, Mohammed Muhamud Nur, and summoned home its own representative, ambassador Lucas Tumbo, after accusing its neighbor of auctioning off oil and gas blocks that fall within Kenyan territory.

Authorities in Nairobi have said that the decision by the government of Somalia to auction off oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territorial area that borders Somalia has resulted in the recall and expulsion of the diplomats.

Somalia has rejected the accusation, despite stating last week that it will award licenses to foreign oil companies later this year. This comes after calls from the opposition to wait for laws and regulations governing the sector to solidify.

According to Somalia’s Foreign Ministry, “[the country] is not now offering nor does it have any plans to offer any blocks in the disputed maritime area until the parties’ maritime boundary is decided by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).”

The Ministry added that it wanted to reassure the government of Kenya that it stands by its commitment not to undertake any unilateral activities in the disputed area until such a time as the ICJ renders its judgement.

The ICJ is currently hearing the case regarding the maritime border between the two countries. Mogadishu’s case against Nairobi hinges on attempts to redraw the sea border, which would impact at least three of Kenya’s 20 offshore oil blocks. Since bilateral talks have failed to resolve the row, the court’s final outcome will have a significant effect on the East African neighbors.

The recently discovered oil wealth is an important new source of revenue, with the Somalian offshore blocks potentially holding as much as one billion barrels of oil equivalent. The two states have been co-operating in the long fight against the al Qaeda-linked, al Shabaab militants in Somalia. According to Kenya, the current row over maritime territory could jeopardize that.

By Hayley Grammer, Contributing Editor