Somalia Endorses Defense Deal With Turkey

Somalia’s cabinet and lawmakers on Wednesday endorsed a major defense deal with Turkey, with Mogadishu locked in a dispute with Ethiopia over a maritime agreement it says threatens its sovereignty.

Under the 10-year pact, close ally Turkey will help defend Somalia’s long coastline and also rebuild the naval forces of the fragile Horn of Africa nation, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told reporters after a joint session of parliament.

“The agreement submitted to parliament today is solely about cooperation between Somalia and Turkey on maritime defence and economy, it is not in any way aimed at creating hatred or feud with another country or government,” he said.

But he added: “We have been at war with terrorists to liberate our country and today we will start engaging in another war to defend our maritime territory from the terrorists or those who have violated our lawful rights and the international rule of law.”

In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia when it signed a maritime deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland that would give the landlocked country long-desired sea access.

“Somalia made its stance clear: that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia can never be negotiated, and this has led to this historic agreement today,” Deputy Defence Minister Abdifatah Kassim told AFP.

“Turkey is the best choice to defend Somalia coasts,” he added.

Turkey’s Largest Overseas Foreign Base

NATO member Turkey has close relations with Somalia and is its leading economic partner, notably in the construction, education, and health sectors, as well as in military cooperation.

Somalia is also home to Turkey’s largest overseas military base and training facility, which has already trained more than 5,000 members of the Somali security forces, according to Turkish media reports.

It is among several nations training soldiers to take over from an African Union peacekeeping mission known as ATMIS, whose troops are set to leave by the end of the year.

The Horn of Africa nation has been blighted by decades of civil war and a bloody Islamist insurgency by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab jihadist militant group.

Al-Shabaab continues to carry out attacks against security and civilian targets despite a military counter-offensive launched in August 2022, with US air strikes and the AU troops on the ground.

Turkey is among those to have voiced support for Somalia’s sovereignty following the January 1 Ethiopia-Somaliland memorandum of understanding.

Under the pact, Somaliland agreed to lease 20 kilometers (12 miles) of its coast for 50 years to Ethiopia, which wants to set up a naval base and a commercial port on the coast.

In return, Somaliland — which unilaterally declared independence in 1991 — has said Ethiopia would give it formal recognition, although these assertions have not been confirmed by Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa and one of the biggest landlocked countries in the world, has been searching for an outlet to the sea ever since Eritrea declared independence in 1993.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate of 4.5 million inhabitants, enjoys relative stability when compared to Somalia.

But it remains isolated because of the lack of international recognition, preventing it from benefiting from its position on the Gulf of Aden, leading to the Red Sea, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been harassing the vital shipping lane since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.

“With this pact, Turkey will protect the Somali coast from pirates, terrorists… anyone that violates our maritime borders like Ethiopia,” Somalia’s deputy defense minister said.

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