In the aftermath of the Somali security force’s recent seizure of a UAE-registered civil aircraft at the Mogadishu airport that contained $9.6 million, the United Arab Emirates announced in a statement its decision to disband its military training program in Somalia which started in 2014.
The UAE said the $9.6 million was for the salaries of 2,407 Somali soldiers and to run three training centers. The UAE did not name the three centers, but it is believed their locations are in Mogadishu, Bosaso and Kismayo, where a newly built center has not been officially inaugurated.
“The UAE has expressed its denunciation of the seizure incident, which flies in the face of diplomatic traditions and ties between world countries and contravenes the agreements signed by both countries,” read Sunday’s statement.
A Somali government official reacted quickly to the news that the UAE was disbanding the training centers.
“The federal government of Somalia is bound by an agreement only to the extent that other parties observe the agreement’s substantive provisions in practice,” said the senior official who requested anonymity.
Even before the UAE made the decision, the Somali defense minister told state media that the government on its side was ending the UAE funding for the Somali forces. Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdirahman also said that troops trained by UAE would be “broken up” and merged with other divisions.
By Saturday, the UAE had withdrawn most of its trainers from the Somali town of Bosaso, where they have been training maritime police forces. But the UAE trainers were only allowed to depart with their luggage, as airport officials blocked military items and other equipment being loaded onto the aircraft, a security official at Bosaso airport said.
The plane carrying the bags arrived at the Mogadishu airport on April 8. Somali officials rejected the UAE’s explanation of the incident and blamed the UAE ambassador to Mogadishu, Mohammed Ahmed Othman al-Hammadi, who was at the airport to receive the money.
“The ambassador refused the bags to be examined with metal detectors, electronic scanning, or canine sniffing without opening or detaining the bag, which was a simple solution to the problem,” a Somali official told VOA Somali.
Somalia has also denied violating international diplomatic norms when seizing the money, which was being transported in three unmarked bags.
“If a diplomatic bag’ is used to deliver illegal articles such as weapons, cash, then the bag is violable,” said a senior government official speaking with VOA Somali on the condition of anonymity.
UAE officials argued that Somali officials knew the money was coming.
Gen. Abdiweli Jama Gorod, commander of the Somali National Army, told VOA Somali that he was approached by UAE officials on the day the money arrived in Mogadishu and asked to write a letter to the airport manager requesting release of the money to UAE
But Gorod said he was not told about the quantity of the money, and said he told AUE officials that they should accept a bag search.
VOA has also learned that there were discrepancies in where the money was coming from, which raised the suspicion of Somali officials at the airport.
Gorod’s letter, which was obtained by VOA Somali, said the money was coming from Bosaso in Puntland where UAE has been running a training camp. But Somali aviation officials said the plane came directly from the UAE.
In addition, a second letter obtained by VOA Somali dated April 5 informed the Somali national army about the money, and indicated that $6 million of the money was allocated for the Mogadishu training center, while the remaining $3.6 million was for the Bosaso training center.
The Somali government said the money is in the central bank pending an investigation on whether the money was actually for the soldiers or to bribe politicians to “destabilize” the country.
Relations between Somalia and the UAE have been worsening since the government of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed resisted pressure to cut ties with Qatar and took a neutral position on a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Last month, the Somali government rejected an agreement between the UAE’s Dubai World, Somaliland and Ethiopia over Berbera port, claiming the deal “violates the territorial integrity of Somalia.”