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Somaliland warns against deployment of foreign troops along Red Sea

By Staff reporter , Garowe Online

HARGEISA, Somalia - The northern breakaway region of Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi has warned against the deployment of foreign military along the Red Sea without her involvement in the entire process, arguing that the region deserves "respect and honor" from neighboring countries.

Early this year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led several other countries in forming a task force on the Red Sea that would oversee the control besides coming up with strategic management of security matters along the coastline of the sea, stretching from the Gulf of Eden.

But speaking on Tuesday during the pass out of 32nd batch of police and military officers at Mandera Police Academy, Bihi said Somaliland would never accept the deployment of foreign military on its territory without proper consultation, adding that The Red Sea "is an integral part of the Republic of Somaliland".

The matter, he said, should be solved diplomatically by involving all the stakeholders, adding that failure to do that, it would amount to "serious violation of territorial integrity". Bihi insisted that whereas security is important along the stretch, all stakeholders must be involved in coming up with a lasting solution.

"Somaliland will not allow the deployment of military officers along The Red Sea without our involvement. This will amount to a violation of territorial integrity," Bihi told military officers who were graduating. "This matter must be solved diplomatically by involving all stakeholders."

His statement comes almost seven months after a regional council involving eight countries in the Red Sea corridor was launched with Saudi Arabia at the helm as a way to tackle piracy, smuggling, and terrorism, which have been top impedances to development along the strip.

The council aims to enhance stability in the region, but regional rivalries and notable exclusions from the initiative remain a key sticking point. And this informed Somaliland's protest, which could now derail implementation in the coming months should the team fail to bring everyone on board.

The January conference saw Foreign ministers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan signed the charter of the Council of Arab and African Coastal States of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden on Monday. All border the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden.

After the conference, Somaliland had issued a protest note, terming the move "biased and discriminatory". Its 850-kilometer coastline is in a key position in the Red Sea Corridor, a point in the statement from the Somaliland foreign ministry on Tuesday.

Hargeisa also said it will not cooperate with any policies or programs originating from the council as “long as its excluded and denied its rightful position among the important stakeholders,” it said, adding that “it will not recognize the formation of any blocs that exclude legitimate stakeholders based on arbitrary, irrelevant or discriminatory criteria.”

The Red Sea corridor spans 2250 kilometers at its widest point, a key waterway that separates the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean and beyond to Asia, as billions of euros in shipping trade pass through its waters each year. The fishing industry in the Red Sea is also a competitive one.

Ahmed Solimam, a researcher, had also faulted the limited participation, adding that such a move would automatically derail implementation besides triggering major diplomatic fallouts among the countries within the Red Sea strip.

The idea for the council was initially announced in 2018 as a joint Egypt-Saudi initiative, as Saudi emerged as the lead after a juggling of interests, according to Ahmed Soliman, who is also an Africa Programme research fellow at Chatham House.

“You don’t want to limit participation to littoral states only there is a need to look at more inclusive engagement and membership around that,” said Soliman, referring to Ethiopia, the sixth largest landlocked country in the world, and a major trading partner with Djibouti.

Somaliland is fighting for international recognition, almost 30 years after it seceded from Somalia after decades of conflict and civil war. The region runs a parallel administration with a functional legislature, executive, and judiciary, and it is deemed to be more stable than Mogadishu.

Last week, Hargeisa also hinted at plans to have Egypt establishing a military base within the region, a significant move that puts it at the global stage. Despite the hiccups, both Somaliland and Somalia are engaged in formal talks which were brokered by Djibouti in June this year.


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