Maputo — After a two day meeting in Maputo under SADC (Southern African Development Community) mediation, delegations from Malawi and Tanzania, led by the foreign ministers of the two countries, could reach no agreement in their dispute over the ownership of Lake Niassa.
On Friday, the head of the mediating team, former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, publicly admitted that the talks were deadlocked, and that the two sides had adopted "rigid" positions.
He said that the mediating team, which also includes the 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", explained Chissano. "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".
Despite these diametrically opposed points of view, the task of the mediators was to work to bring the two sides closer together. "We want to avoid taking the dispute to court for a solution", said Chissano. "We believe that the two sides will continue to exchange notes, which will certainly clarify certain points, and this could lead to a new approach in the discussions".
Despite the impasse over the border, Chissano insisted that the two governments should cooperate in managing the lake for the benefit of the people living on both shores. He said the mediators wanted the two sides to discuss common use of the lake and its resources, and the questions that could be raised if the frontier issue was solved one way or the other.
Despite the deadlock, both delegations said they were pleased at the outcome of the meeting. Tanzanian Foreign Minister, Bernard Membe, said that steps had been taken towards 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".
His Malawian counterpart, Ephraim Chiume, said that the differences persist, but there are signs of an approximation between the two sides.
"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", he guaranteed.
The dispute only concerns the northern part of the lake, where the Malawians say the border was fixed in a treaty of 1890 between Britain and Germany. The southern part of the lake is shared between Malawi and Mozambique. The border runs down the middle of the lake (although there are some Malawian islands on the Mozambican side), and there is no dispute.