* Tanzania, Malawi embroiled in territorial row over lake
* Tanzania president says army prepared to defend territory
* Malawi has awarded licences for oil exploration in lake
By Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala
NAIROBI, July 25 (Reuters) - Tanzania said on Thursday its armed forces were ready to protect the country against any foreign threat to its territory, raising the stakes in an escalating border dispute with Malawi.
Tanzania is embroiled in a territorial wrangle with Malawi over the ownership of Lake Nyasa, which is known as Lake Malawi in the neighbouring country.
Malawi, which sits to the west of Africa’s third-largest lake, claims the entire northern half of the lake while Tanzania, to the east, says it owns half of the northern area. The southern half is shared between Malawi and Mozambique.
“Anyone who tries to provoke our country will face consequences ... Our country is safe and the army is strong and ready to defend our country,” said Kikwete without directly mentioning the Malawi border dispute, in a speech to mark the country’s national heroes’ day celebrations.
“We will not allow anyone to mess with our country, or try to take away our territory. We will deal with them just as we dealt with (former Ugandan ruler Idi) Amin.”
The Tanzanian army helped topple Amin in 1979 after he invaded part of Tanzania’s territory.
Kikwete’s remarks come after his Malawian counterpart, President Joyce Banda, told mediators this month her government would not accept any interim deal on the disputed boundary with Tanzania until the wrangle over sovereignty is settled.
Banda also said her government would not entertain any interim agreement on Tanzania usage of the lake until the issue was resolved.
Tanzania has repeatedly assured their citizens to continue using the lake without any fear.
Malawi had pulled out of talks on the issue in October, accusing its northern neighbour of intimidating its fishermen, a charge Tanzania denied.
It returned to the negotiating table this year as the soured relations delayed exploration for oil and gas.
In 2011, impoverished Malawi awarded exploration licences to British-based Surestream Petroleum to search for oil in the lake. (Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Editing by George Obulutsa and Alison Williams)