Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohamed Farmaajo of Somalia have agreed to normalise relations between the two countries, but fell short of a deal on the simmering maritime dispute.
In their first face-to-face meeting since March, the two leaders on Tuesday night in New York discussed relations, which have recently gone cold as they fight over the flow maritime boundary.
The meeting, brokered by Egypt’s President Abdelfattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, was the first step to normalise relations between the two sides.
Mr Sisi, Chairman of the African Union, had arranged the meeting after Kenya requested out-of-court negotiations, through the continental bloc, over the maritime boundary dispute.
The case, due for public hearing in November, is currently at the International Court of Justice after Somalia sued seeking to redraw the sea boundary.
“Somalia and Kenya have agreed to work towards normalising relations without any implications for the maritime case at the ICJ, which will take its full course, after Egyptian President HE Abdelfattah al-Sisi convened a tripartite meeting on the margins of UNGA,” Mohamed Abdinur, Mr Farmaajo's spokesman said.
“Strong neighbourly relations are important for the stability, economic development and people to people relations. Somalia welcomes the opportunity to work towards normalising relations with Kenya, as neighbours and partners, for a better common future.”
Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma confirmed the meeting took place and said it was a step in the right direction.
“Kenya welcomes this first meeting, which is a step in the right direction. Kenya has always believed in, and continues to call for negotiations as the best framework for finding African solutions for African problems,” she said on her Twitter handle.
The Kenya-Somalia dispute had recently generated tit-for-tat moves restricting direct flights as well as issuance of visas at ports of entry.
Some regional experts have warned that further deterioration of relations could allow al-Shabaab militants to thrive as the two countries also collaborate on counter-terrorism measures.
But as in their fruitless March meeting in Kenya’s capital Nairobi when Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed tried to mediate, Somalia has stuck to its guns on pursuing the court case.
Kenya had earlier warned that the decision of ICJ, which is binding on both sides, could offer little room for a win-win solution and hence may sow further political differences.
In the Tuesday meeting, Somalia reportedly said there would be no discussion on the dispute until the case is concluded.