LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola is trying to reach an agreement with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo before it submits a request to the United Nations for its maritime border to be extended to cover an area with huge oil reserves.
The Anglolan parliament approved a resolution on Wednesday that allows the government to enter into talks with the Congo, which last year accused Angola of stealing its oil , about the border extension.
Angolan Justice Minister Guilhermina Prata said the goal was to extend Angola's maritime border to up to 350 nautical miles from 200 miles.
"An agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo on our northern maritime border will create the conditions for Angola to submit a request (to the United Nations)," Prata told members of parliament.
Angola rivals Nigeria as Africa's biggest oil producer.
But Congo, struggling to recover from a 1998-2003 war, has no offshore oil operations. Its narrow Atlantic coastline lies between the main part of Angola and its northern exclave of Cabinda.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states may explore and exploit the natural resources of their continental shelf for up to 200 nautical miles from shore.
They can apply to extend their border's outer limit to up to 350 nautical miles in certain circumstances.
Although strong regional allies, tension between the two nations erupted last year after Kinshasa accused Luanda of stealing its oil and later expelled thousands of Angolan immigrants from its land in a wave of deportations.
Angola Foreign Minister Assuncao dos Anjos said ties between the two nations are good and denied accusations that Angola was illegally pumping Congo's oil.
"Relations between Angola and the Congo are good," dos Anjos told Reuters on the sidelines of a parliamentary session in Luanda.
Asked why Angola planned to request an extension to its maritime boundary, dos Anjos replied: "this extension request comes from a decision by the international community to allow nations to stretch their maritime border."
Brazil said earlier this week it was trying to forge an alliance with African and South American countries to defend seabed mining rights and strategic lanes in the South Atlantic
by extending maritime borders.
Such a move could render huge profits for nations like Angola, which boasts a similar underwater rock formation to Brazil, which in 2007 made a pre-salt discovery of some 8 billion barrels of crude in its Tupi field.