UAE cancels construction of military base in Somaliland


ABU DHABI - The Construction of Air and Naval bases in Somaliland, a breakaway region in northern Somalia by the United Arab Emirates [UAE] has been stopped, reports indicate, putting into a halt a deal that was signed 3 years ago.

The government of UAE had started setting a military base in Berbera, near an ongoing airport within the autonomous region of Somaliland, adding to its exploits in neighboring Eritrea.

According to UAE the National daily, the Arabian nation has now formally canceled the construction, with a possible cut of ties with Somaliland looming.

In the deal, UAE had agreed to offer military training to Somaliland police and army, besides equipping them for sophisticated entanglement, Reuters reported.

Muse Bihi Abdi, the Somaliland President, had in 2017 welcomed the construction of the base, saying “It’s safer to have a lot of military in the area."

Abdi said he hoped UAE investments, including a new civilian airport and a road connecting Berbera to landlocked Ethiopia, will lead to a “huge creation of employment” in Somaliland where unemployment is rampant.

In a unanimous vote, Somaliland parliament approved UAE's quest, paving way for the military base construction. If the deal had stood, the UAE would have stayed in Berbera for 30 years.

While announcing the cancellation of the deal in September last year, Mr. Abdi converted the adjacent airport to "civilian" although he did not divulge to finer details over the U-turn on the base.

Terming the airport strategic, he said "people can now land from air and see in the airport. It's now civilian. It will improve our economy."

Ministry of state in Dubai did not elaborate on the country's future engagement with Somaliland, neither did it give an immediate plan to expand the country's military presence in Africa.

Berbera is less than 300 km [190 miles] south of war-torn Yemen, where UAE troops are fighting rebels as part of a Saudi-backed coalition, Reuters reported.

UAE is one of the foreign countries that have a heavy presence of the military at the Horn of Africa. Turkey has a training base in Somalia while the US, France, China, and France preferred Djibouti.

Coincidentally, the Emiratis are withdrawing from Somaliland just a few months after Russia announced plans to establish a military base in Berbera, near the airport.

Just like many foreign nations, UAE has also turned its eyes in mineral-rich Africa, investing over $500 million, mainly focusing on the youth and digitalization.

Ms. Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE state minister, said, “We are committed to helping deliver the apparatus in which start-ups can thrive, entrepreneurs can lead and young people can look forward with optimism to a future that is firmly in their control.”

Somaliland seceded from Somalia in 1991 following the genocide that was orchestrated by Siad Barre, although it's yet to be formally recognized by the United Nations.

But in recent weeks, there have been efforts to reconcile Hargeisa and Mogadishu, with Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy, organizing a first meeting between Mr. Bihi and Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo last month in Addis Ababa.


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