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Somaliland president criticizes Somalia airspace agreement amid regional tensions

Wednesday January 24, 2024

Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland speaks during a news conference on October 10, 2018. Picture taken October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo


Hargeisa (HOL) - The President of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, Muse Bihi, has expressed regret over an earlier agreement with Somalia concerning the transfer of air control amid increasing diplomatic tensions in the region. Bihi's comments come after Somalia refused to allow Ethiopian and Thai-registered aircraft to enter its airspace, flights which were destined for Somaliland.

Bihi lamented the initial deal that shifted airspace control from an international governing body to the Somali government. He accused Somalia of failing to honour this and other agreements related to the distribution of international aid and educational grants, claiming that Somaliland received only a tiny portion of what was due.

These developments are set against the backdrop of a contentious deal signed on January 1st between Somaliland and Ethiopia. Under this deal, Somaliland would lease a port to Ethiopia in return for a share in Ethiopian Airlines and possible recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state. Somalia, which views Somaliland as part of its territory, vehemently opposes the agreement, describing it as an aggressive act and an infringement of its sovereignty.

Bihi clarified that Ethiopia would rent a military base and use the Berbera port and, in a significant move, would be the first country to recognize Somaliland's sovereignty. "The essence of the agreement is Ethiopia's use of a naval base in Somaliland and its recognition of our sovereignty. These are the key components, with all other aspects being cooperative," said President Bihi.

Somalia's decision to block flights from Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates is seen as reinforcing its position that Somaliland is not an independent entity. This stance has crucial consequences for Ethiopia, which, after the Eritrean War of Independence, needs the deal with Somaliland for access to the Red Sea.

Somaliland, which proclaimed its independence from Somalia in 1991 and was formerly a British protectorate, functions with the hallmarks of a sovereign state but lacks global recognition.

President Bihi referenced a Somali proverb, "The man who does not relent is the one who ends up conceding," to underscore the breakdown of agreements. He specifically criticized Somali leaders, including President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, for prioritizing Mogadishu's interests over broader regional concerns.

Bihi told his citizens that this arrangement, involving the use of the existing Berbera port, is expected to significantly boost Somaliland's economy and market activities around the port. 

As the situation continues to evolve, the international community, including the US and the African Union, has called for calm and reiterated support for Somalia's territorial integrity. 


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