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Malawi, Tanzania Fail Again to Resolve Lake Border Dispute

LILONGWE, Malawi

The latest round of talks between Malawi and Tanzania to resolve their dispute over Lake Malawi ended in deadlock last week.

At a two-day meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) forum of former heads of state, delegations from Malawi and Tanzania were unable to reach an agreement over ownership of the lake.

On March 21, the head of the mediation team, former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, publicly admitted that the talks were deadlocked, and that the two sides had adopted "rigid" positions.

He said that the SADC mediators, who also included former South African and Botswanan presidents Thabo Mbeki and Festus Mogae, had held separate meetings with the Malawian and Tanzanian delegations.

"The two delegations have rigid positions on the question of the border," Chissano told Mozambique's state-run news agency AIM. “Malawi wants the border to be on the eastern shore of the lake, which is the Tanzanian coast, while Tanzania argues that a line of delimitation should be drawn down the middle of the lake."

He said the forum’s task was to find a way to bring the two countries together despite their opposing points of view.

"We want to avoid taking the dispute to court for a solution," said Chissano. He said the mediators believed the two sides would continue to exchange notes and clarify certain points, and this could lead to a new approach in the discussions.

He added that despite the current impasse, the two governments should cooperate to manage the lake for the benefit of the people living on both shores.

"As mediators we want the two sides to discuss common use of the lake and its resources," said Chissano.

For their part, both the Malawian and Tanzanian delegations said they were pleased at the outcome of the meeting.

AIM quoted Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe as saying steps had been taken toward an understanding.

"We are comfortable with the performance of the mediating team," said Membe, “and at our next meeting we believe we will be able to make further advances, which will allow us to reach consensus in this dispute, without damaging our positions."

Malawi's Foreign Affairs Minister, Ephraim Chiume, said that although differences persist, “we trust the mediation team, and it is our intention to solve this problem in a friendly way, maintaining the brotherly ties which unite African peoples.

Meanwhile, the vice presidential candidates from Malawi's three major opposition political parties -- the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) -- all vowed to resolve the lake border dispute if voted into office during the upcoming May 20 general elections.

During a political debate in Blantyre on March 21, organized by one of Malawi's privately owned radio stations, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), the DPP's Saulos Chilima said his government would refer the border dispute to the courts.

"The lake is ours -- if dialogue will not work then we will take the case to the courts," said Chilima, who is running on the ticket with Peter Mutharika, the younger brother of late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Richard Msowoya, the running mate of MCP presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera, said that his government would continue holding talks with Tanzania to resolve the matter

"We will engage into discussion with our neighbors," he said. Msowoya did not say what the next step would be if these discussions with Tanzania to not yield results.

UDF vice presidential candidate Godfrey Chapola, the running mate of Atupele Muluzi (son of former Malawian president Bakili Muluzi), also said his party would engage Tanzania in a dialogue to resolve the lake border dispute.

"UDF as a party believes in contact and dialogue as the only way to address the Malawi-Tanzania border dispute," he said.

Sosten Gwengwe of Malawi's ruling People's Party (PP), whi is running with current President Joyce Banda, shunned the debate after his party accused ZBS of being biased toward one of Malawi's major opposition parties at another debate few weeks ago.

Malawi claims the entire northern part of Lake Malawi (known in Tanzania as Lake Nyasa), based on colonial-era treaties between Great Britain and Germany, while Tanzania says the border between the two countries runs through the middle of the lake.

The territorial dispute between the two countries resurfaced in 2011, when Malawi granted British petroleum company Surestream permission to explore for oil and gas in the lake. Tanzania said it should have been consulted before the permits were issued.

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