MOGADISHU, Somalia >> Landlocked Ethiopia took the first steps toward gaining access to the sea on Monday, signing an agreement in the capital of Addis Ababa with the breakaway Somali region of Somaliland to access the Somaliland coastline.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi.

As part of the deal, Somaliland plans to lease a 20-km (12.4-mile) stretch of land along its coastline to Ethiopia to establish a marine force base, Abdi said at the signing.

With a population estimated at over 120 million, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world.

The agreement strengthens the security, economic and political partnership between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a statement from the Ethiopian prime minister’s office said.

Somaliland President Abdi said the agreement included a statement that Ethiopia would recognize Somaliland as an independent country in the near future.

Somaliland seceded from Somalia more than 30 years ago, but is not recognized by the African Union or the United Nations as an independent state. Somalia still considers Somaliland part of its territory and reactions by officials from there were swift.

“Somalia is indivisible. Its sovereignty and territorial integrity is uncompromisable,” Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, Somalia’s petroleum and mineral resources minister, said.

Somalia posted on the social media platform “X,” formerly Twitter: “Ethiopia knows well that it can’t sign a military pact/MOU to lease a port with the regional head of state- that mandate is the prerogative of the Federal Government of Somalia.”

Somali state-owned media said in a post on social media that the Somali Cabinet would convene Tuesday to discuss the agreement between Somaliland and Ethiopia.

Somalia and Somaliland reached an agreement in Djibouti on Friday to strengthen cooperation on security and the fight against organized crime.

Ethiopia lost its access to the sea when Eritrea seceded in 1993. Ethiopia has been using the port in neighboring Djibouti for most of its imports and exports.

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