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UAE terminates programme to train Somalia's military

Somalia's relations with UAE are strained by dispute between Qatar and Saudi as Mogadishu has refused to take sides
Ugandan forces at African Union Mission in Somalia base outside Mogadishu last week (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates is ending a military training programme in Somalia in response to the seizure of millions of dollars and the temporary holding of a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week.

Tensions between Mogadishu and Abu Dhabi have been on the rise since the Somali government condemned Emirati plans to build a military base in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.

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

Somalia had announced disbanding the programme from its side a few days earlier.

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

Analysts say Somalia's relations with UAE are strained by a dispute between Qatar and Saudi because Mogadishu has refused to take sides.

Arab states have strong trading links with and influence in Somalia, but that is offset by the sway of Qatar and its ally Turkey, one of Somalia's biggest foreign investors.

"The UAE has decided to disband its military training programme in Somalia which started in 2014 to build the capabilities of the Somali army," said the statement on the UAE's state news agency WAM.

About $9.6m in cash was taken from the UAE plane on 8 April, Somali police and government sources had said. The UAE said the money was to pay for salaries for Somali soldiers as part of an agreement between the two countries.

The UAE statement said the seizure incident contravened agreements signed by both countries.

WAM said the UAE has been paying the wages of 2,407 soldiers in addition to building training centres and a hospital. It also said the UAE was supervising a counter-piracy maritime police force in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

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Still, the UAE is building a military base in Somaliland and Mogadishu has objected to the project. Last month, the Somali government complained to the UN that the UAE's military base is a "clear violation of international law".

"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," Somalia's Ambassador to the UN Abukar Osman told the Security Council in March.

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