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Somalia’s president accuses Ethiopia of trying to annex territory with Somaliland sea deal

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud accused Ethiopia on Saturday of trying to annex part of his country’s territory by signing a sea access deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland.

The agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland signed Jan. 1 “is nothing more than annexing part of Somalia to Ethiopia, and changing the borders of Somalia,” Mohamud told reporters. “Somalia categorically objects to that.”

Neither side has made the terms of the deal public, but it appears to give Ethiopia the right to build a port in Somaliland in exchange for recognition. Somaliland has enjoyed de facto independence for three decades, but Somalia still claims sovereignty over it.

Mohamud claimed senior officers from Ethiopia’s military were in Somaliland “preparing the ground” for the territory’s annexation. It was not possible to verify his allegation.

Somalia has suggested it would be prepared to go to war to stop Ethiopia from building a port in Somaliland.

But Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has played down fears of an armed conflict over the Somaliland deal, telling lawmakers earlier this month that he had “no intention” of going to war with Somalia.

Mohamud was in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to attend an African Union summit. He charged that Ethiopian security services tried to block him from leaving his hotel on Saturday morning, forcing him to travel in the convoy of Djibouti’s president.

When the pair arrived at the AU headquarters, armed guards tried to prevent them from entering the building, Mohamud said, describing the alleged action as “provocation.”

Ethiopia has not yet addressed the allegations.

With a population of more than 120 million, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world. It lost its access to the sea when Eritrea seceded in 1993. Since then Ethiopia has been using the port in neighboring Djibouti for most of its imports and exports.

Abiy rattled his neighbors in October by describing Ethiopia’s landlocked status as a “geographical prison” that could bring chaos to the region, remarks his country’s neighbors may have seen as a veiled threat.

The deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland would grant Ethiopia access to the strategically important Gulf of Aden and, beyond that, to the Red Sea.

Somaliland’s citizens are divided over the deal, with some seeing potential economic benefits while others fear compromising their sovereignty. The breakaway region’s defense minister, Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye, resigned over the deal.

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