Somali president rejects land deal granting Ethiopia coastal access

Somalia’s president on Tuesday rejected an agreement signed between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland to give landlocked Ethiopia access to its coast, calling it a violation of international law.

“We will not stand idly by and watch our sovereignty being compromised,” President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told a joint session of Somalia’s federal parliament.

Somaliland, a region strategically located by the Gulf of Aden, broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country collapsed into warlord-led conflict. The region has maintained its own government despite its lack of international recognition.

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On Monday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi signed a memorandum of understanding to allow Ethiopia to lease a 12.4-mile stretch of coastline to establish a marine force base.

Somaliland’s president said the agreement also included a clause that Ethiopia would recognize Somaliland as an independent country in the near future.

Somalia’s president said Somalia and Ethiopia share a long history and that embracing a peaceful coexistence is the only way to ensure lasting peace in the region.

Somali flag

The Somali flag is flown in Mogadishu, Somalia, January 28, 2010.  (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

He also expressed concern that Ethiopia’s presence could give rise to extremism, saying that Ethiopia’s incursion into Somalia in 2006 to fight the Islamic Courts Union led to the rise of the extremist group al-Shabab, which still poses a significant threat.

“We need to be cautious to avoid jeopardizing the significant strides we’ve made towards defeating this group, and this move is creating another opportunity for al-Shabab to recruit,” Mohamud said.

Al-Shabab through its spokesman, Sheik Ali Dhere, urged the Somali people to unite and defend their land and sea against perceived external threats. The statement was carried by the group’s radio arm, Andalus.

With a population of more than 120 million, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world.

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The agreement strengthens the security, economic and political partnership between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a statement from the Ethiopian prime minister’s office said.

The agreement “is unlikely to affect regional stability in the short term,” said Matt Bryden, strategic advisor for Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank.

Somalia has no means to impose its will by force on Somaliland, but it is likely to deploy instruments of juridical sovereignty to isolate it, Bryden said. These include restricting the activities of aid agencies and donor governments, restraining international flights and warning foreign commercial interests against doing business with Somaliland, he said.

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However, an escalation in political and diplomatic posturing by neighboring countries such as Djibouti and Eritrea is “very likely” in the longer term, Bryden said.

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