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Somaliland - Berbera

The Somali regime in Mogadishu, with Qatari and Iranian money at its disposal, was focusaed on undermining the agreement between Somaliland and UAE to develop port Berbera and build a military base in there. It is said that the Iranians are funneling huge resources to Mogadishu through Qatar to stop the construction of the military base in Berbera, from which the UAE plans to launch military strikes against the pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen. As Somalia disbands UAE’s military training program, Iran and Qatar fill the vacuum, ramping up their support for Mogadishu. Already, weapons stolen from the UAE training facility in Somalia are awash in Puntland.

Somalia, Djibouti, Qatar, Iran and the Houthi rebels all oppose the UAE efforts to expand port Berbera and the construction of the military base for different reasons. Attacking Somaliland directly will attract the International community’s attention, so using Puntland as the launch pad is more logical. The war between Somaliland and Puntland is not about controlling the destitute village of Tukaraq, as it is about waging a proxy war and having access to the lucrative port Berbera.

In March 2018 Dubai-based DP World struck a deal giving Ethiopia a 19-percent stake in Somaliland’s Berbera port. The company already managed Bossaso port in semi-autonomous Puntland, as well as Berbera. The company planned to invest $442 million developing Berbera on the Gulf of Aden shipping route, and has retained a majority 51-percent share in the port. The remaining 30 percent is owned by Somaliland’s government. Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Sacad Ali Shire defended both the initial deal with DP World, signed in 2016, and the recent buy-in by Ethiopia, which hopes the Berbera corridor will offer it another route to the sea for imports and exports.

The move angered Somalia, which does not recognize Somaliland’s long-standing claim of independence and has a history of animosity with Ethiopia. On 14 March 2018 Somalia’s Parliament declared “null and void” the port deal signed by breakaway Somaliland that had raised tensions between Mogadishu and Hargeisa. Declaring the deal unconstitutional and therefore “null and void” Mogadishu’s Parliament asserted in a resolution: “It is only the Federal Government of Somalia that can engage in international deals.” After 168 out of 170 MPs voted the deal down, it said. “All ports, and airports in the country are national property and ... no one can privately claim ownership... The DP World company intentionally violated the sovereignty of Somalia, so this company is banned completely from operating in Somalia”. The resolution went on to ban DP World from operating anywhere in Somalia.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will train Somaliland security forces as part of a deal to establish a military base in the semi-autonomous region, Somaliland’s president said on 16 March 2018. UAE government officials could not immediately be reached for comment – but the UAE has committed to invest hundreds of million dollars in recent years in the territory on a strategically important stretch of coastline on the Gulf of Aden.

The UAE began construction in 2017 of a base on a site at the airport of the Somaliland port city Berbera, and will be allowed to maintain a presence for 30 years. Berbera is less than 300 km (190 miles) south of war-torn Yemen, where UAE troops are fighting rebels as part of a Saudi-backed coalition.

President Muse Bihi Abdi said the UAE would train police and military in Somaliland, which wants independence from war-torn Somalia but is not recognised internationally. He said he expected the agreement to be finalised within two months. “They have the resources and the knowledge,” Abdi told Reuters in an interview in Abu Dhabi.

UAE has become more assertive in its foreign policy in recent years. The UAE Armed Forces have been fighting in the Yemen conflict since 2015 and in the past deployed in international operations including Kosovo and Afghanistan. Abdi said the military base, which he expects will be completed this year, will guarantee economic development and security for Somaliland and act as a deterrent to extremist groups in the region. Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, Saad Ali Shire, who was present during the interview, declined to disclose how many UAE soldiers would be stationed at the base.

The vote by Somalia's parliament on 12 March 2018 to expel the state-owned United Arab Emirates company DP World in protest against its $442 million deal to build a new port at Berbera, in Somaliland, raises the stakes in a deepening regional row. President Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed 'Farmajo' and the parliament dispute Somaliland's right to make any deal over territory it regards as integral to Somalia and also object to Ethiopia taking a 19% stake in DP World's Berbera port project, a deal it regards of critical strategic importance.

The parliament of the break-away republic of Somaliland overwhelming approved a deal to allow the United Arab Emirates to establish an air and naval base in the port town of Berbera. Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo presented the motion on 12 February 2017 to a joint session by both houses of the parliament, saying “it will attract investments, and it will not bring any harm to Somaliland or the region.”

A number of lawmakers angrily opposed the motion and shouted against the president before they were removed form parliament. The motion then passed with the support of 144 out of 151 lawmakers. If signed, the deal gives the UAE a strong military foothold in the Horn of Africa.

The UAE had already secured a military base in the port of Assab in Eritrea. Observers say UAE plans to have a long-term military bases to monitor naval traffics in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.

Somaliland’s Aviation Minister Farhan Adan Haybe said the deal is valid for 25 years, and after it expires the Somaliland government will “own the military base and all the investments made by UAE. ... The base is on a lease, it can’t be used any other nation except the UAE and can’t be sub-leased”.

The deal followed a $442-million agreement with a Dubai-based Company (DP World) to upgrade the port of Berbera. The deal signed in September 2016 will transform Berbera port into a major Red Sea shipping stop. The UAE government was among various countries assisting Somalia’s regional administrations in their fight against al-Shabab militants.

Somalia Auditor General Nur Jimale Farah was one of several observers questioning the propriety of the UAE base deal. Aaccording to Somalia's auditor general, officials in Somalia and breakaway Somaliland took bribes in exchange for authorizing a United Arab Emirates military base in the port city of Berbera. Jimale accused senior officials in Somaliland and the government of Somalia's former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of backing the deal for the sake of “illegitimate private gains.” He added “We know that individuals within the leadership of Somalia and Somaliland were invited to Dubai and that they were corrupted with bags full of cash to sign the agreement”.

An area of 40km sq compromising of Berbera airport and sea front have been provided to the UAE for a period of 25 years and is renewable. The base has been provided in exchange for security training, support and protection to the autonomous region, the source added, providing a much needed security blanket to Somaliland which borders Somalia to the south.

Assab is an austere base, so the work the UAE is doing there – especially the the expansion of the hangars and apron and building a new docking facility for UAE vessels 10km north of of current Assab port – is consistent with a long-term UAE presence. The UAE has been putting up aircraft shelters and deployed half a squadron of Mirage 2000 fighters to the base in September 2016.

Just five kilometres away from the base, UAE ports giant Dubai Ports World signed a $442 million deal in 2017 to develop Berbera port. The 30 year deal will see the commercial port expanded and doubled in size next to a large free zone and other infrastructure projects to provide a new gate way to Ethiopia, Africa’s fastest growing economy.

The Government of the Republic of Somaliland leased an undisclosed amount of land to the UAE in the northern part of Berbera city - close to the shores of the Gulf of Aden. The UAE will build their own port for the military base. All military equipment to arrive through the their port will be exempt from taxes. The UAE's military will have full access to Berbera International Airport.

The lease agreement between both countries is valid for 25 years - and will come into full effect when both governments officially sign the agreement. After 25 years, the military base and all investments made by the UAE will be taken over by the Government of the Republic of Somaliland.

The military base can not be used by any other country except the UAE and can not be sub-leased by either the Government of the Republic of Somaliland or the Government of the United Arab Emirates. The agreement also states that the military base can not be used for any other purpose outside of the agreement.

The UAE will implement the following projects in Somaliland: a modern highway between Berbera and the border town of Wajaale, a modern renovation of Berbera International Airport for civillian and cargo flights, and numerous social development projects (Education, Health, Energy & Water) for the citizens of Somaliland. The UAE will provide job opportunities for Somaliland's citizens during the 25-year stay. The UAE will also ease travel barriers for Somaliland's citizens.

The UAE will provide full cooperation with the Republic Somaliland on matters relating to Somaliland's national security. This includes: cooperation on protecting Somaliland's waters from illegal activities at sea (piracy, waste dumping etc). The UAE pledges to the respect the rights and independence of Somaliland's citizens and promises to not conduct any activities that will put Somaliland's national security at risk. The UAE also will also be fully responsible for preserving and protecting the current equipment and construction of Berbera International Airport.

The Government of the Republic of Somaliland is not responsible for any natural disaster that might affect the implementation and/or activities of the military base. In the event of a natural disaster, both governments will jointly provide necessary relief efforts. In the event of a dispute, both governments will be given 30 days to resolve the dispute. If the dispute is not resolved within 30 days, the dispute will be arbitrated by the London Court International Arbitration (LCIA). Both Governments also have the absolute right seek a dissolution agreement. If one side does not want to dissolve the agreement, the case will be heard by the London Court of International Arbitration.

Peace-loving Somalilanders assembled in front of the UAE Embassy in London on 02 March 2017 to "express their total refusal to Berbera Sell-out". Five reasons were given to "defend your country against foreign domination". These included "Arabs are well known for their Bi-sexual orientation and romantic attraction to persons of the opposites sex and South African mercenaries are certified alcoholics and womanizers. The reasons are countless."

Somalia is strategically located on the east coast of Africa and, along with Ethiopia and Djibouti, is often referred to as the Horn of Africa. From Berbera, the city of Hargeisa is typically less than a 3-hour trip by car. In January 1991 Somali dictator Siad Barre was forced to flee. By then the SNM had acquired control over the whole of the former British Somaliland (the former provinces of Northwest, Togdher, Sanag, and part of Nugal). In May 1991 the SNM declared its secession from Somalia and the establishment of the independent state of Somaliland. The issue of Somaliland's relations with the remainder of Somalia and whether there should be any attempt at reunification is particularly sensitive.

The port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden is strategically located to observe the sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the Arabian Sea (into which flow the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman). The US and USSR also maintained a presence, for the same purpose, on the Yemeni island of Socotra. The Cold War is over, but our interests are still keen in that region.

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somaliland is a breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. Somaliland was independent for a short period in 1960, between the end of British colonial rule and its union with the former Italian colony of Somalia. More than 40 years later voters in the territory overwhelmingly backed its self-declared independence in a 2001 referendum. Though not internationally recognized, Somaliland has established and sustained peace arid stability and held parliamentary and presidential elections. It has a working political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency. The territory has lobbied hard to win support for its claim to be a sovereign state.

Somaliland meets the criteria for recognition as a state. It has a permanent population, a defined territory, a functioning government and capacity to enter into relations with other states in the international community. With a thriving private business sector, duties from Berbera, a port used by landlocked Ethiopia, and livestock exports are important sources of revenue.

In World War II, the 3/6 (Tanganyika Territory) Battalion of the King's African Rifles (KAR), later renamed 36 (TT) KAR, was based at Berbera, British Somaliland, where it was responsible for guarding many thousands of Italian soldiers who had been taken prisoner in the East African Campaign.

From the mid-1950s onward, conventional wisdom of the day postulated that the wave of the future belonged to the Nasirists and their camp followers from Morocco to Muscat, from Baghdad to Berbera, from Aden to Algiers and Aleppo in between. But, this was not to be.

A July 1974 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and other agreements concluded at that time formed the basis for the expansion of Soviet activities in Somalia. The Soviets acquired special access rights to Somali facilities, including the strategically located port of Berbera. the missile support facility under construction at Berbera was intended to store, maintain, service, and assemble missiles with conventional warheads in support of Soviet ships and submarines, and aircraft.

A new Berbera airfield became the primary support facility outside the USSR for a variety of Soviet air missions in the Indian Ocean area, and added important dimensions to Soviet military capabilities there. Soviet aircraft operating from Berbera were able to conduct extensive open-ocean reconnaissance; provide target data relay, ASW, SIGINT collection and logistic support services; support Soviet space-related activities; and rapidly augment anti-shipping capabilities in the Indian Ocean.

The Soviet facilities in Berbera provided the means for enhancing the capabilities and credibility of Soviet ships, submarines, and aircraft operating in the Indian Ocean area. But the facilities expansion activity did not presage a greatly expanded, continuous Soviet Indian Ocean military presence in the near future. While some Soviet warships, submarines, and aircraft may spend time at Berbera, there were no major Soviet units stationed there permanently or in large numbers. Soviet ships generally anchored near Socotra Island in the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, and this practice continued. Aircraft deployments from the USSR were short term as the need arises, particularly for exercises or during crises.

The improvements at Berbera were intended to support the requirements of a small but gradually increasing presence, as well as what the Soviets probably consider essential requirements to support surge deployments during crises. The evidence available to Western Intelligence concerning Soviet construction in Somalia was considered generally complete and reliable for the purpose of identifying external physical features and dimensions of facilities and equipment. This evidence was overwhelmingly photographic. It was supplemented in some important details by a first-hand report of a US official who visited most of the Berbera facilities. There was no direct evidence, other than actual Soviet political, economic, and military deployments and other activities, of the USSR's plans or intentions for its future posture in Somalia.

One of the first and most important organized guerilla groups opposed to the Siad Barre regime, the Somali National Movement was created in 1981 in the United Kingdom by Isaaq Clan exiles from the northwestern part of Somalia. In 1988, fearing a decisive assault by Barre forces, the SNM launched its own all-or-nothing attack.

Starting in August 1988, the US government responded to the emergency with $1.9 million in disaster assistance to help the victims of the civil conflict. The most expensive item of emergency assistance was the $1 million disaster hospital unit, which was set up in Berbera. The hospital unit was donated from the Defense Department’s Humanitarian Affairs Office to assist the victims of the conflict. The government of Somalia provided the building, and the Defense Department provided the medicines, medical equipment, cots, linens, and basic hospital supplies. The hospital is located in Berbera because it was considered a secure area to which supplies and patients could be quickly transported, if necessary. More seri- ous injuries are treated at Somalia’s main hospital in Mogadishu. The hospital provided assistance to military personnel, Ogadeni refugees, and local townspeople.

Somalia received military and economic aid from the United States for a promise of American use of the port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden. But aid declined drastically as allegations of human rights abuses rose.

The ban of livestock imports to the Middle East from East Africa, instituted after the 1997/1998 Rift Valley fever [RVFV] outbreak in Kenya and Somalia, particularly affected the export trade out of Somalia. The ban was variably enforced by several Middle Eastern countries but most notably by Saudi Arabia, which imports large numbers of ruminants for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. In 1997, the year before the onset of the ban, 2.8 million live animals were exported from the Somaliland port of Berbera, making it the single biggest exporting port for ruminants in the world that year. With the livestock trade accounting for 65% of gross domestic product in Somaliland, the export ban had a devastating effect on a region already suffering in the grip of a protracted civil war.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:45:53 ZULU