TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Balkan neighbors Albania and Greece said Tuesday they have agreed to refer a dispute over their maritime borders in the Ionian Sea to the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice.
The joint decision was announced during a visit to Tirana by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
“We have agreed to pass on this case to international justice,” Dendias said after a meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Rama said that taking the disagreement to the court in The Hague would "(join) the dots based on the (court's) expertise and international maritime law.”
Greece has recently launched a push to delimitate its sea borders with neighboring countries, amid high tensions — that threatened to trigger a military confrontation — with eastern neighbor Turkey over offshore energy exploitation rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. Athens has so far signed deals with Italy and Egypt.
Tirana and Athens inked a deal to define their maritime border in 2009, when Albania was governed by the Democratic party that is now in opposition.
But Rama's Socialists, then in opposition, had challenged the agreement in court, claiming it cost the country 225 sq. kilometers (86 sq. miles) of territorial waters.
Albania’s Constitutional Court nullified the agreement nine months later, deeming it unconstitutional.
"That issue will not be at our discretion, nor that of the Greek side, but of international justice and in that way we shall focus on our economic (and) regional cooperation,” Rama said.
Relations between Greece and post-communist Albania have been at times uneasy, largely over minority rights, and Albania's repealing of the 2009 Ionian Sea agreement was another field of tension.
Dendias said Tuesday that Greece would soon nullify the formal state of war still in place between the two countries since World War II, when fascist Italian forces invaded Greece through the Albanian border before being forced to retreat deep into Albania.
European Union member Greece has long backed Albania’s desire to eventually join the 27-nation bloc.
The governments in Tirana and Athens have said that the ethnic Greek minority in Albania and the large population in Greece of Albanians who emigrated there after the fall of communism serve as bridges linking the two countries.