Kenya and Somalia are seeking an out-of-court settlement over the long-running border dispute linked to lucrative oil and gas reserves in the Indian Ocean.
Foreign Affairs secretary Amina Mohammed told Parliament that Somalia had agreed to pursue arbitration outside the United Nation’s highest court which was preparing to start hearing the suit.
Somalia had asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to determine the maritime boundary between the two neighbours which disagree on the right to explore and collect revenue from oil discoveries.
“We have received a pledge from the Federal Government of Somalia indicating readiness to withdraw a case it filed in New York against us and pull out of the case for us to resolve maritime boundary issues,” said Ms Mohammed.
Somalia had also filed a formal claim for a bigger chunk of the continental shelf at the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) based in New York.
Somalia wants the maritime border to continue along the line of the land border, to the southeast diagonally and says a horizontal border would be unfair. Kenya, however, wants the sea border to go in a straight line east, giving it more sea territory.
If it goes the Somalia way, Kenya will be left with a small triangle in the Indian Ocean for mineral rights, losing at least seven oil blocks it has offered explorers.
The dispute has been running for years, keeping investors away because of lack of legal clarity over who owns potential offshore oil and gas reserves.
Kenya recently identified eight new offshore exploration blocks available for licensing, and all but one of them are located in the contested area.
Somalia has said the dispute risks deterring multinational oil companies from exploring for oil and gas offshore East Africa.
An agreement reached and deposited with the Law of the Sea Commission in New York in 2011 following similar diplomatic negotiations was scuttled by Somalia’s parliament, setting the stage for the suit at the UN’s highest judicial body.
The agreement between Kenya and Somalia stated that the border would run east along the line of latitude, but Mogadishu, which has lacked an effective central government since 1991, rejected the agreement in parliament.
In 2012, Somalia accused Kenya of awarding offshore oil and gas exploration blocks illegally to multinationals Total and Eni. Kenya rejected the accusation.