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Tensions escalate between African neighbors over Red Sea deal

Somalia has insisted on Ethiopia terminating its “illegal” agreement with Somaliland

Somalia has rejected mediation in a dispute with Ethiopia, insisting that resolution is only possible if its landlocked East African neighbor cancels a Red Sea access agreement it concluded with breakaway Somaliland.

Relations between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa have deteriorated since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland’s president, Muse Bihi Abdi, signed a memorandum of understanding at the beginning of January granting Ethiopia access to the Red Sea port of Berbera for 50 years.

Although Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, it has yet to be internationally recognized as an independent state. Mogadishu, which considers Somaliland part of its territory, has denounced the maritime pact as an act of aggression and a violation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

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Mogadishu has threatened to go to war to prevent the deal from being implemented, accusing Addis Ababa of plotting to attack Somali waters and target Arab countries in the Red Sea. In response to the rising tensions, the African Union (AU) called for restraint and “meaningful dialogue” between the two member states during a meeting on Wednesday.

In a statement on Thursday, the Somali government said it had taken note of the AU’s recommendation but insisted that Ethiopia had violated its sovereignty by signing an “illegal” deal with the “Somaliland administration.”

There is no space for mediation unless Ethiopia retracts its illegal MOU and reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia,” Somalia’s Foreign Ministry said in the statement posted on X (formerly Twitter).

The deal with Somaliland would see 20km (12 miles) of coastland around the port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden leased to Ethiopia for five decades for commercial purposes and the construction of a military base.

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Somaliland defense minister quits over port deal with Ethiopia

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose country joined the BRICS+ group on January 1, has emphasized the importance of access to the Red Sea – one of the world’s major trade crossroads – for Ethiopia’s economic growth. The Horn of Africa nation currently relies mainly on the port of neighboring Djibouti for the majority of its maritime trade since it became landlocked following Eritrea’s secession in 1993.

While Addis Ababa recognizes the Somaliland deal as a victory, Mogadishu has called for international support against it. On Thursday, Ethiopian State Minister of Foreign Affairs Mesganu Arega Moach accused the Arab League of attempting to meddle in the country’s internal affairs after the 22-nation bloc declared the MOU “a clear violation of international law.”

Somalia and Ethiopia have withdrawn their ambassadors from each other’s capitals over the port row.

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January 19, 2024 at 03:05PM
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