Foreign Ministry battle hits Lanka’s sea claim

By our Diplomatic Editor

Sri Lanka has abruptly withdrawn from ongoing talks to extend the country's sovereignty beyond the 200 nautical mile zone and into the continental shelf.

The Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon advising him that Sri Lanka will "defer its presentation to a later session" of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS.)

The reason was insignificantly vague: await the establishment of a new sub-commission which is expected to examine all submissions, including Sri Lanka's. The deferment, according to the Foreign Ministry, is for two years.

If and when Sri Lanka's submission is approved, its extended continental shelf will go all the way across the Bay of Bengal on the east coast, and up to the Indian Andaman Islands’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The EEZ is the 200 mile area extending from the baseline of the internal waters towards the sea. Sri Lanka's claims to the continental shelf will also extend further northeast, up to Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh's EEZ on India's east coast. On the South, our claim extends up to 500 to 600 nautical miles.

Sri Lanka, which was due to make its final submissions during the spring session of the CLCS around April this year, has had no pending maritime boundary disputes with neighbouring states. Many states, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Norway, South Africa and France, have had their submissions already approved.

"The ministry's decision to call for a deferment is also intriguing," said one Foreign Ministry official.
He said Sri Lanka's UN envoy Palitha Kohona was involved in the ongoing talks.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, who was at loggerheads with Dr. Kohona when he was Foreign Secretary, "may be taking this dispute, from being local to global," he said.

"If we had succeeded in the talks, perhaps he did not want Dr. Kohona to take the credit," he said.

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