MOGADISHU – The leaders of Somalia and breakaway state Somaliland are meeting for talks Sunday in a renewed effort to mediate strained ties between the two, Mogadishu said in a statement.
The talks are taking place in Djibouti, chaired by the country’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, while Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is also attending, according to his Twitter account.
Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, nicknamed ‘Farmajo’, “is committed to all efforts to bring about fruitful talks with Somaliland,” said presidential spokesman Abdinur Mohamed Ahmed in a statement.
The agenda has not been made public.
These will be the first official talks between Farmajo and Somaliland President Musa Bihi, after Abiy hosted an informal meeting in February.
“The Somaliland delegation will have the opportunity to present to the world that Somaliland has a right to its sovereignty,” the Somaliland foreign ministry wrote on Twitter.
Somaliland, a former British protectorate, won independence in 1960 but days later joined with Somalia. In 1991, after years of war with the government in Mogadishu, it declared independence from the rest of the country.
While anarchic southern Somalia has been riven by years of fighting between multiple militia forces and Islamist violence, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace.
However it has never achieved the international recognition it desires.
“The question of Somaliland’s sovereignty is, of course, at the centre of tensions between Mogadishu and Hargeisa,” the International Crisis Group said in a 2019 report.
“During previous rounds of talks between 2012 and 2015, the two sides made progress on practical issues of cooperation, such as airspace management, but failed to close the gap on the fundamental issue of Somaliland’s status.”
Talks collapsed in 2015 and relations deteriorated, with clashes erupting between Somaliland forces and those in neighbouring Puntland – a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, in 2018.
Tensions also deepened in 2018 after the Dubai-based DP World struck a deal giving Ethiopia a 19-percent stake in Somaliland’s Berbera port.
Somalia saw this as a violation of its sovereignty.
Both sides in 2018 took measures to hinder travel between their territories, according to the ICG report.
Somaliland stamped Somalia passports with a visa, on the grounds that Somaliland was a separate country, while Somali officials began confiscating passports with these stamps.
In 2019, Somalia lodged a protest with Kenya after it referred to Somaliland as a “country” following talks between the two.
Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his efforts to resolve a long-running conflict between Ethiopia and its neighbouring foe Eritrea.
The peace deal with Eritrea unlocked a flood of diplomacy in the Horn of Africa, with Somalia and Eritrea establishing diplomatic ties after decades of animosity, while rivals Djibouti and Eritrea have also moved to ease long standing tensions.