Landlocked Ethiopia has signed an initial agreement with Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland to use its Red Sea port of Berbera, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office says.
The Horn of Africa country currently relies on neighbouring Djibouti for most of its maritime trade.
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Ethiopia was cut off from the coast after Eritrea broke away from Addis Ababa and formally declared independence in 1993 following a three-decade war.
“This has been now agreed with our Somaliland brothers and an MoU [memorandum of understanding] has been signed today,” Abiy said on Monday at the signing ceremony with Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Abiy’s office described the deal as “historic”, adding that it “shall pave the way to realise the aspiration of Ethiopia to secure access to the sea and diversify its access to seaport”.
“It also strengthens their security, economic and political partnership,” the prime minister’s office wrote in a post on X.
— Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia (@PMEthiopia) January 1, 2024
The deal comes months after Abiy said the country should assert its right to access the Red Sea, rousing regional concerns.
Abdi said that as part of the agreement, Ethiopia would be the first country to recognise Somaliland as an independent nation in due course.
The agreement paves the way to allow Ethiopia to have commercial marine operations in the region by giving it access to a leased military base on the Red Sea, Abiy’s national security adviser, Redwan Hussien, said
Somaliland would also receive a stake in state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, Hussien said, without providing details.
Somaliland has not gained widespread international recognition despite declaring autonomy from Somalia in 1991. Somalia says Somaliland is part of its territory.
Somalia’s SONNA state media agency reported last week that after mediation efforts led by Djibouti, Somalia and Somaliland had agreed to resume talks aimed at resolving their disputes.