The measure would reportedly allow landlocked Ethiopia unhindered maritime access while respecting Somalia’s territorial integrity © X / @WilliamsRuto

Kenya has proposed a regional maritime treaty to resolve an escalating dispute in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Somalia over a port access deal that breakaway Somaliland signed with Addis Ababa, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The news agency cited Korir Sing’oei, Kenya’s principal secretary for foreign affairs, as saying that the proposed measure, in consultation with Djibouti and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in East Africa, would govern how landlocked states in the region can have commercial access to ports.

“IGAD can be able to formulate a treaty for sharing maritime resources,” Sing’oei said.

Tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia have run high since January, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland’s president, Muse Bihi Abdi, signed a deal for 20km (12 miles) of coastland around the port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden to be leased to Addis Ababa. The 50-year agreement will allow the landlocked nation to access the Red Sea for commercial purposes and also to build a marine force base. Somaliland’s president has said Ethiopia will formally recognize the “Republic of Somaliland, setting a precedent as the first nation to extend international recognition to our country,” in exchange for its coastline.

Somalia, which still considers Somaliland to be part of its territory despite the region’s de facto independence in 1991, has condemned the pact as a land grab and a breach of its territorial integrity. Last week, the Somali government expelled Ethiopian Ambassador Muktar Mohamed Ware from Mogadishu, citing certain actions by Addis Ababa that it claims violate Somalia’s internal affairs.

Prime Minister Abiy, whose country has relied on Djibouti for the majority of its maritime trade for more than three decades, has described the agreement as critical to Ethiopia’s economic needs. He has, however, denied claims by Mogadishu, backed by Egypt, that his government is attempting to seize Somali lands.

On Thursday, Kenya’s foreign affairs principal secretary reportedly said Nairobi’s proposed treaty would offer Ethiopia “stable and predictable access to maritime resources” if approved. This would allow Africa’s second-most populous nation to conduct business freely while also respecting Somalia’s territorial integrity, Sing’oei said.

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“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,” he stated.

Sing’oei’s comments come after Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, met with his Kenyan counterpart, William Ruto, in Nairobi for talks on a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

However, Somali State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Omar said on Friday that reports of a “maritime treaty involving Somalia and Ethiopia are completely unfounded.”

“Somalia stands firm on its territorial integrity. We call for a focus on peace and stability in the region,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter). (RT)