Somalia rules out mediation unless Ethiopia retracts Somaliland dealThu, 18 Jan 2024 19:24:25 GMT

Somalia on Thursday ruled out mediation with Ethiopia unless Addis Ababa cancels a controversial maritime deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland.Tensions in the Horn of Africa have escalated since landlocked Ethiopia reached a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland on January 1 that gives it much sought-after access to the sea.In return, Somaliland — which unilaterally declared independence in 1991 — has said Ethiopia would give it formal recognition. This has not been confirmed by Addis Ababa.”There is no space for mediation unless Ethiopia retracts its illegal MoU and reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia,” the Somali foreign ministry said in a statement posted on social media.The two countries have a history of stormy relations and territorial feuds, fighting two wars in the late 20th century.Somaliland’s government on Thursday alleged Somalia had “intentionally reneged on all agreements made with Somaliland” including on security matters and air space access. The statement came after the Somali Civil Aviation Authority said it denied entry on Wednesday to an Ethiopian Airlines overflight to the Somaliland capital Hargeisa.On Thursday, the authority also refused entry into Somali airspace to a Thai-registered cargo plane flying from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Hargeisa.The African Union’s Peace and Reconciliation Council, a conflict resolution body, on Wednesday urged the two neighbours “to exercise restraint, de-escalate and engage in meaningful dialogue towards finding a peaceful resolution of the matter”.East Africa grouping IGAD also held an extraordinary summit in Uganda on Thursday to discuss the feud and the conflict in Sudan.Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is in Kampala for the meeting with other regional heads of state.Ethiopia will not be attending because it was invited at “very short notice”, a foreign ministry spokesman said.- Act of ‘aggression’ – Mogadishu has branded the maritime pact an act of “aggression” by Ethiopia, which has in turn insisted no laws have been transgressed.Under the wide-ranging agreement, Somaliland agreed to lease 20 kilometres (12 miles) of its coast for 50 years to Ethiopia, which wants to set up a naval base and a commercial port on the coast.The independence claim by the former British protectorate of 4.5 million people is not recognised by the international community.Mogadishu vehemently opposes Somaliland’s quest for statehood but the fragile central government exercises little authority over the northern region, which has its own government, security forces and currency.The United States, European Union, China and the Arab League, along with the AU and IGAD have all called for Somalia’s sovereignty to be respected.Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Wednesday described the MoU as “a blatant attack against Arab, African and international principles, and a clear violation of international law”.His statement was labelled “unacceptable” by the Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman.Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa and one of the biggest landlocked nations in the world, was cut off from the coast after Eritrea seceded and declared independence in 1993 following a three-decade war.Addis Ababa had maintained access to a port in Eritrea until the two countries went to war in 1998-2000, and since then Ethiopia has sent most of its sea trade through Djibouti. While Somaliland is largely stable, Somalia has witnessed decades of civil war and a bloody Islamist insurgency by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militant group.Mohamud has warned that the maritime deal could open the way to a “revival” of Al-Shabaab, which has been the target of a major military offensive since 2022.