By Andrew Wasike
NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – Kenya and Somalia decided Thursday to normalize relations and restore a visa on arrival arrangement despite an ongoing maritime border dispute.
The agreement was reached during a bilateral meeting held earlier in the day between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on the sidelines of a global population and development summit in Kenya’s capital.
“We have come to an understanding that there can be no greater relationship than that of neighbors. With immediate effect, we will return to normality,” Kenyatta said at a joint press conference with Mohamed, referring to his country’s previous move to deny visas on arrival to Somalis.
“In the past few months, we have had issues that have strained our relations. But today, we have agreed that there is a need to bring normality to our relationship.”
Mohamed acknowledged that the two countries had agreed to mend relations and thanked Kenyan military forces who are in Somalia waging war against the al-Qaeda affiliated Somali-based al-Shabaab militant group.
He also touched on the maritime border issue, which is at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The case is due for a public hearing in June next year.
“I can assure you that the ICJ issue will not affect our bilateral relationship,” he said.
Somalia sued Kenya in 2014 in a bid to have their maritime border redrawn in a roughly 100,000-square-kilometer (62,000-square-mile) area that is thought to contain large deposits of oil and gas.
Both countries claim the area as theirs.