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Somalia disbands UAE programme to pay and train soldiers

Somalia said it seized several bags of money containing $9.6m in cash from a plane arriving from the UAE.

troops

Somalia has disbanded a United Arab Emirates programme to train some of its troops in a new sign of rising tensions in bilateral relations.

The Somali government announced on Wednesday that it will take over paying and training the soldiers in the programme, Defence Minister Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman told Somalia's state news agency Sonna.

"Somalia will fully take over [its troops] trained by the UAE... Those forces will be added to the various battalions of the Somalia National Army," Abdirahman said, adding the soldiers would be integrated into other units on Thursday.

The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 as part of an effort boosted by an African Union military mission to defeat an al-Shabab insurgency and secure the country for the government, which is backed by Western nations, Turkey and the United Nations.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE government.

Rising tensions

The move came after the government of Somalia said on Sunday it had seized several bags of money containing $9.6m in cash from a plane arriving from the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.

On Tuesday, the UAE denounced the seizure of the money, which it said was destined to pay the soldiers.

"Money allocated to support the Somali army and trainees was seized at gunpoint by Somali security personnel, who disrespected some members of the UAE forces," it said.

The money was found in three unmarked bags on a Royal Jet plane, according to the Somali interior ministry, and its seizure resulted in an hours-long standoff between airport officials and UAE embassy staff in Mogadishu.

Royal Jet is an airline based in Abu Dhabi, servicing the luxury market between the UAE and Europe.

"The seized money is worth $9.6m. Security agencies are currently investigating where the money came from, where it was going, the individuals involved and the reason for bringing money worth this amount into the country," Somalia's interior ministry said in a statement late on Sunday.

Relations between Somalia and the UAE have been frosty since June last year.

Mogadishu resisted Emirati and Saudi pressure to cut ties with Qatar following a dispute between the Gulf neighbours. Somalia said it was neutral in the Gulf diplomatic rift.

Last month, Abu Dhabi agreed to train security forces in Somaliland - a region in northern Somalia seeking to secede from the country. The UAE has also signed with Somaliland a 30-year concession to manage Berbera Port in the semi-autonomous region. It has also started building a military base in the port city.

Somalia dismissed the agreement between Abu Dhabi and the northern Somali region as "non-existent, null and void" and called on the United Nations to take action.

Speaking at the UN Security Council last month, Abukar Osman, Somalia's ambassador to the UN, said the agreement between Somaliland and the UAE to establish the base in Berbera is a "clear violation of international law".

Osman called on the Security Council to "take the necessary steps" to "put an end to these actions".

"The federal government of Somalia strongly condemns these blatant violations, and reaffirms that it will take the necessary measures deriving from its primary responsibility to defend the inviolability of the sovereignty and the unity of Somalia," he said.


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