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Baltic States: Estonia And Latvia Ratify Maritime Border

Tallinn, 11 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A maritime border agreement between Estonia and Latvia was ratified today when Estonian Foreign Minister Siim Kallas and Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs exchanged letters in the Estonian seaport capital, Tallinn.

Also today, the prime ministers of Latvia and Lithuanian are meeting in the Lithuanian seaport, Palanga, in a continuing effort to settle their separate border dispute.

The Latvian-Lithuanian border negotiations take on urgency because they affect an oil exploration agreement between Latvia and the U.S. oil company, AMOCO, and the Dutch company, OPAB. The agreement will lapse on October 31 unless ratified.

Both countries claim sovereignty over parts of the Baltic Sea oil exploration areas involved. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele and Lithuanian Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevicius have said they believe a compromise settlement is near.

The Estonian visit by Latvian Foreign Minister Birkav was his first official visit to Estonia since the two Baltic states regained independence in 1991. During the visit, the Latvian foreign minister also met with Estonian President Lennart Meri and Prime Minister Tiit Vahi. The signing ended a border dispute as well as a Baltic herring war between Estonia and Latvia. Kallas and Birkavs also discussed an additional agreement on fishing.

Birkavs told a joint press conference that the Estonia-Latvia maritime border agreement shows that the two Baltic states can cooperate further to achieve their common foreign policy goal -- joining the European Union and NATO.