(Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia said its deal with Somaliland to gain access to the Red Sea enables the government to make an “in-depth assessment” of whether it would grant recognition to the breakaway region of Somalia.

Addis Ababa on Wednesday published additional details on X of the memorandum of understanding signed on Jan. 1 with Somaliland. The deal will grant Ethiopia a 50-year lease to establish a naval base and commercial maritime services on the strategically important Gulf of Aden. In exchange, Somaliland gets a stake in Ethiopian Airlines.

Somalia is the United Nations-recognized owner of Somaliland, and the region’s tie-up with Ethiopia has sparked concern it could further inflame tensions in the Horn of Africa. 

Thousands of Somali residents gathered at a stadium in Mogadishu, the capital, on Wednesday to express their frustrations. One banner read, “we would prefer to die defending our territorial integrity rather than be threatened by Ethiopia, which is landlocked by nature.”

In a diplomatic briefing note, Somalia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Ethiopia’s unilateral actions constituted a direct encroachment on its sovereignty, and effectively violated established international norms and standards. 

“We call on the Ethiopian prime minister to rescind the Jan. 1, 2024 unlawful agreement he made with a regional authority within the sovereign state of Somalia,” it said. “Given the gravity of the situation and its serious implications for international peace and security, we urge international partners” to condemn Ethiopia’s actions and ensure it complies with international law, it said. 

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a bloc of East African nations, expressed concern. “IGAD is diligently monitoring the situation and recognizes the potential implications for regional stability,” Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu said in a statement.

Ethiopia voiced its surprise at the response to the agreement, which is cast as a way to resolve its need to secure access to the sea through peaceful means, and denied that it had transgressed any laws.

“The position announced by the government is strongly rooted in a desire to not engage in a war with any one, to ensure that the options pursued are mutually beneficial to all stakeholders and expresses Ethiopia’s readiness to share its endowments,” it said. 

Ethiopia also argued that there had been no complaints raised when Somaliland signed agreements with other countries. In recent years, Dubai state-controlled DP World Ltd. has taken over operating the breakaway region’s port of Berbera.

--With assistance from Mohamed Sheikh Nor and Mike Cohen.

(Updates with comment from Somalia’s foreign affairs ministry from fifth paragraph.)

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