- Associated Press - Saturday, March 20, 2021

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Kenya has withdrawn from International Court of Justice hearings on its dispute with neighboring Somalia over territory in the Indian Ocean.

A statement from Kenya’s Foreign Ministry cited alleged “procedural unfairness” by the United Nations court and alleged bias by a Somali judge on its bench as among the reasons Kenya decided to no longer participate.

Kenya said it informed the court’s registrar that even though the case was merited, the government thinks continuing the legal proceedings denies the two countries an opportunity to resolve the matter bilaterally.

“Kenya restated that it should not have been dragged to the court by Somalia merely because of the neighbor’s resurgent expansionist agenda,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement late Friday.

The statement said the court also was informed that influential third parties with commercial interests were fueling a case ” that threatens to destabilize the peace and security of an already fragile region.”

Somalia filed the case with the International Court of Justice in 2014. The dispute centers around Indian Ocean maritime rights and boundaries. The area in dispute – about 100,000-square kilometers – is thought to be rich in oil, gas and fish.

In its withdrawal statement, Kenya cited concerns about the potential bias of International Court of Justice Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf, a Somali citizen who previously represented Somalia at the Third United Nations Conference on the law of the sea.

Diplomatic ties between the two East African neighbors have become increasingly strained by the territorial dispute and recent accusations that Kenya was influencing Somalia’s politics.

Somalia’s government severed ties with Kenya in December because of what it described as the imperative “to safeguard the unity, sovereignty, stability of the country.”

The announcement came as the leader of the breakaway territory of Somaliland ended a three-day visit to Kenya, where he was given treatment similar to that accorded to a head of state in meetings with the Kenyan leadership.

Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country collapsed into warlord-led conflict and it has seen little of the violence and extremist attacks that plague Somalia to the south. Despite lacking international recognition, Somaliland has maintained its own independent government, currency and security system.

Somalia, however, considers Somaliland as part of its territory. Several rounds of talks over possible unification have failed to reach an agreement.

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