MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Another diplomatic thaw was underway Saturday in the restless Horn of Africa region as Somalia’s president visited Eritrea for the first time and years of tensions gave way to an embrace.
“Somalia is ready to write a new chapter of its relations with Eritrea,” Abdinur Mohamed, a spokesman for President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, announced on Twitter.
The two nations have not had diplomatic ties for nearly 15 years. Eritrea, one of the world’s most closed-off nations, remains under United Nations sanctions for allegedly supporting the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group. Eritrea denies it.
Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Meskel, said the three-day visit came at the invitation of President Isaias Afwerki, who has led since independence in 1993. “Both leaders have already held a summit,” the minister said on Twitter, sharing photos of the meeting.
“Wind of change is here to stay in the Horn of Africa,” one Eritrean diplomat, the ambassador to Japan Estifanos Afeworki, said on Twitter.
The visit by Somalia’s leader follows a stunning diplomatic thaw in recent weeks between Eritrea and neighboring Ethiopia after more than two decades. Ethiopia under reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed already has asked that the U.N. sanctions on Eritrea be dropped.
The U.N. secretary-general has indicated that the sanctions could be obsolete.
The changing relations in the Horn of Africa region are of interest to the wealthy Gulf states just across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Already they have been jostling for influence in the African nations along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, including both Somalia and Eritrea. Landlocked Ethiopia also eyes both countries’ ports as outlets for its fast-growing economy.
The United Arab Emirates, which set up a military base at Eritrea’s post of Assab after a Saudi-led coalition launched its war against Shiite rebels in Yemen in 2015, has played a role in mending relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, in recent days hosting the leaders of both countries and praising their “bold” gestures.
Somalia remains fragile under the threat of al-Shabab, which holds some rural areas and often carries out high-profile suicide bombings in the capital, Mogadishu. A truck bombing in October killed more than 500 people in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
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