The Somali government has moved to calm diplomatic tensions following Kenya’s decision to recall its ambassador to Mogadishu and instruct Somalia’s ambassador to leave Nairobi.

The two counties are embroiled in a dispute over their maritime territorial boundary. The area in question covers an estimated 100,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean; the land beneath it purportedly holds large deposits of oil and gas.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the Somali government denied that it had auctioned off exploration rights at a Feb. 7 Somalia oil and gas conference in London, saying it had merely presented maps and seismic surveys.

The government also said it would not undertake any other unilateral action in the disputed territory until the case is decided by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. A court date has not yet been set.

‘Egregious decision’

On Saturday, Kenya’s foreign ministry recalled Ambassador Lucas Tumbo from Mogadishu to Nairobi. The move came after what Kenya called, in a statement, Somalia’s “most regretful and egregious decision … to auction off oil and gas blocks in Kenya’s maritime territorial area that borders Somalia.”

Kenya also instructed Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya, Mohamud Ahmed Nur, to depart to Somalia for “consultation.” The government’s statement on its official Twitter account incorrectly listed the ambassador’s name as Mohammed Muhamud Nur.

The Somali government said it regrets Kenya’s decision to send away the ambassador “without prior consultation.”

Somalia filed a complaint with the ICJ in August 2014, after the Mogadishu government said all diplomatic negotiations were “exhausted.” Kenya had filed a preliminary objection, but the ICJ ruled in February 2017 that the court had jurisdiction in the matter.

The court has asked the countries to submit written arguments and counterarguments before it will set a hearing date.

Cooperation at risk

The Somali government said it’s committed to working with Kenya to address issues facing both nations.

But Kenya’s foreign ministry said the dispute could imperil cooperation, warning, in its statement, that “Kenya’s magnanimity toward its neighbors must never be taken for granted.”

Kenya has several thousand troops serving in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission to fight al-Shabab militants. The country also hosts more than 400,000 Somali refugees and asylum seekers, the ministry statement said.

Source: VOA