Kenya does not show up for World Court hearing on Somalia sea boundary row

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FILE PHOTO: Somali women shout slogans during a demonstration against the maritime border dispute with Kenya on the rights for exploration and collecting revenue from oil discoveries in Mogadishu

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Kenya on Monday did not participate in hearings at the World Court about a maritime boundary dispute with Somalia over contested parts of the Indian Ocean believed to be rich in oil and gas.

The case was filed in 2014 by Somalia at the International Court of Justice, the United Nation's highest court for disputes between states, and a decision could determine rights to exploit oil and gas in the deep waters off the East African coastline.

The case at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, is supposed to adjudicate a maritime boundary dispute about more than 100,000 sq km (nearly 40,000 sq miles) of sea floor claimed by both countries.

Hearings when both sides were due to present arguments were scheduled for this week, but Kenya was not present in court or via videolink.

"Kenya informed the court by letter, dated March 11 received March 12, that they would not participate," presiding Judge Joan Donoghue said.

The hearings went ahead with Somalia's presentation of its case. Lawyers for Somalia said Kenya's grating of exploration rights in the disputed area violated its sovereign rights.

Kenyan authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation reported earlier that Nairobi's Attorney General Paul Kihara had written to the court to express dismay at the court's disregard for Kenya's applications including requests for more time to prepare to compensate for delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Nairobi, a spokesperson at Kihara's office confirmed the letter was authentic.

The spat began in 2012 after Somalia accused Kenya of illegally awarding exploration rights in the waters to multinationals Total and Eni. The extent of the hydrocarbon reserves in the disputed waters is unknown, but Kenya awarded the licences at a time when the East African coast was emerging as one of the world's hottest oil exploration prospects.

Rulings by the World Court are final. However it has no direct means of enforcement and some states have ignored its decisions in the past.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg. Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Maggie Fick in Nairobi. Editing by Anthony Deutsch, William Maclean)