(Adds petroleum minister, paragraphs 7-8, adds byline, changes dateline, previous DAKAR)
By Pap Saine
BANJUL, Sept 4 (Reuters) - African Petroleum Corp plans to go to court to resolve its dispute with Gambia, the Norwegian-listed company said on Monday, after the government stripped it of its rights to explore for oil in two offshore areas.
“It is a matter of regret that it has come to this; however, we are confident in our legal position,” Chief Executive Jens Pace said in a statement posted on the company’s website.
“We now believe that in order to protect our historical investment we have no choice but to take this case to arbitration.”
Licence area blocks A1 and A4 are thought to contain up to 3 billion barrels of oil and lie next to licences in neighbouring Senegal where big discoveries have been made.
Shares in African Petroleum fell on the news and closed down 8.84 percent at 1.65 crowns in Oslo.
Gambia’s Petroleum Minister Fafa Sanyang told Reuters by phone he was “not afraid of their threat to take us to court” because African Petroleum had failed to drill the blocks as agreed.
“This is the second time they (have) threatened to sue,” he said. “Our position is very clear: they did not fulfil their ... obligation as agreed. Their licence expired in September last year, they asked an extension which was not approved.”
Gambia’s presidency said late last month that the licences for the two blocks had expired and were now open for relicensing. Gambia also says African Petroleum has failed to meet its commitments, a charge it denies.
Pace has held talks with President Adama Barrow, who replaced long-ruling dictator Yahya Jammeh in January, in an attempt to resolve the dispute, but they have yielded no agreement.
“We remain open to progressive dialogue and sensible resolutions with the Gambian authorities,” he said in the statement. (Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Dakar; Editing by Greg Mahlich and James Dalgleish)