Somalia: Deni visits Southwest after historic Mogadishu deal
BAIDOA, Somalia - Relationship between Puntland and Southwest received a major uplift of Wednesday after Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni visited his counterpart Abdiaziz Lafta-Gareen, who has been in charge for the past couple of years in the southern Somali Federal State.
On Wednesday and in the company of senior government officials, Deni, who has been at the helm since 2019, arrived at Baidoa, the regional administrative capital of Southwest, and was received by senior officials, who were waiting for him at the airport.
This is the first major trip by Deni to Southwest, a regional state which has been struggling with Al-Shabaab attacks, an Al-Qaida linked group that has been keen to overthrow the weak UN-backed Somalia government for many years.
Lafta-Gareen, who was also installed in late 2018, is a close ally of President Farmajo and was put in charge following a fiasco. He was running against former Al-Shabaab deputy leader Mukhtaar Robow, and the contest brought around a conflict in the state.
For a couple of days in December 2018, authorities in Southwest engaged in running battles with the people, after the Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] in collaboration with the Somali National Army [SNA] arrested Robow and transferred him to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
The Somali police shot dead dozens of unarmed civilians in Baidoa during a peaceful protest against the arrest of Robow ahead of the region's presidential election by the end of 2018. The extrajudicial killings have been condemned by the UN's envoy to Somalia Mr. Haysom who was later ordered to leave the country.
Since then, the former Al-Shabaab leader has been under the National Intelligence Security Agency [NISA] detention and calls to release him have fallen to deaf ears. A number of activists have demanded that he is released, but the state is yet to give in to the demands.
And Deni, who spoke to reporters after his arrival, said his trip was aimed at bolstering cooperation between the two states, adding that this will not be his last trip to Baidoa. But it was the first time he was visiting the region after he was elected as Puntland President in 2017.
He is expected to hold discussions on the upcoming national elections with the South West state leadership. Recently, all the five regional states signed a pre-election deal with the Federal Government of Somalia, but the agreement is yet to be appreciated by the international community.
It is believed that Deni is trying to reach out to as many regional state leaders as possible before the elections in an attempt to gain the upper hand against President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who is seeking a second term in office. However, it's not clear if he wants to contest for the top seat.