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Somalia refuses to accept Ethiopian naval base in breakaway region

SOMALIA will never accept Ethiopia’s plan to build a naval base in its breakaway region of Somaliland, but would consider granting Ethiopia commercial port access if discussed bilaterally, a senior Somali official said on Friday.

Landlocked Ethiopia sparked a diplomatic row with Mogadishu in January by signing a deal with Somaliland to lease 20 km (12 miles) of its coastline in return for recognising the region as an independent state.

Somalia called the deal illegal as it considers Somaliland as part of its territory even though it has had effective autonomy since 1991.

To defuse the acrimony, Kenya in consultation with Djibouti and the Eastern African Bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has proposed a maritime treaty to govern how landlocked states in the region can access ports on commercial terms, a senior Kenyan official said on Thursday.

Before discussing port access bilaterally, Ethiopia must annul its agreement with Somaliland, Somalia’s state minister for foreign affairs Ali Omar told Reuters.

“Somalia will never accept (a) naval base,” Omar said. “Somalia is ready for commercial access in accordance with the international law of the sea.”

He added that Somalia was willing to discuss proposals so long as they meet the country’s interests which are to “safeguard (our) sovereignty, political independence and unity”.

A spokesperson for Ethiopia’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

By GIULIA PARAVICINI

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