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Kenya proposes maritime treaty to defuse Ethiopia-Somalia tensions

KENYA has proposed a regional maritime treaty to defuse tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia over a deal allowing Ethiopia to set up a naval base and giving it port access in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, a top Kenyan official said.

Landlocked Ethiopia agreed on January 1 to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastline in Somaliland, a part of Somalia which claims independence and has had effective autonomy since 1991, offering possible recognition of Somaliland in exchange.

That prompted a defiant response from Somalia and fuelled concern the deal could further destabilise the Horn of Africa region.

The treaty Kenya is proposing in consultation with Djibouti and regional bloc IGAD would govern how landlocked states in the region can access ports on commercial terms, Korir Sing’oei, Kenya’s principal secretary for foreign affairs, told Reuters.

“IGAD can be able to formulate a treaty for sharing maritime resources,” he said, referring to the bloc which brings together countries in the region.

On Thursday Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud held a meeting with his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto in the Kenyan capital as part of efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

“We continue to engage with all the parties with a view to ensuring that at the end of the day, the region is left all stable,” Sing’oei said.

If accepted, Nairobi’s solution would offer Ethiopia “stable and predictable access to maritime resources” so it can carry out its business unhindered, while also respecting Somalia’s territorial integrity, he added.

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Somalia and Ethiopia are considering the proposal, he said, and their leaders have been asked to consider meeting to take the process forward.

Sing’oei said time was of the essence since al-Shabaab militants in Somalia were using the dispute to portray the government in Mogadishu as being unable to protect Somalia’s sovereignty.