Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ethiopia freezes flights to Somaliland as relations hit a new 'all-time low'

Ethiopia freezes flights to Somaliland as relations hit a new 'all-time low'

Relations between Ethiopia and Somaliland region have hit an all-time low in the aftermath of Ethiopian Airlines termination of its flights to the northern Somali semi-autonomous region.

The suspension by Ethiopian without taking Somaliland's administration into confidence, embarrassed the Hargeisa leadership to no end.

The ordeal began after Ethiopian resumed its flights to Hargeisa's Egal Airport following a recent infrastructure upgrade including a new 2.4 km runway. Almost two weeks ago, an Ethiopian 737 with 120 passengers made a historical touch down by becoming the largest aircraft to ever land in Egal International airport.

The regional administration celebrated the event hailing it as a new chapter in the region's aviation. Mohamud Hashi Abdi, the aviation minister, said other airliners would follow suit.

But Ethiopian has since refused to return citing security and poor infrastructure as the two biggest concerns.

Even though the government of Kuwait has donated $10million for the upgrade, many sources in Hargeisa said not even 20% of that has gone towards the airport and it remains in poor condition.

The runway for instance was upgrade with basic tarmac that will not support heavy aircraft such as the Boeing 737. There are no runway markings nor have they built any parking or hangars for the aircraft. The perimeter remains vulnerable and very accessible to outsider intruders.

Ethiopian heavily protested its reluctance to trust its expensive airliners with such facility particularly when most of its Boeing 737 relatively very new.

Somaliland's Ministry of Aviation protested the national carrier of Ethiopia's claims during a press briefing in Hargeisa on Wednesday.

The Ministry's head of protocol Mr. Abdillahi Ahmed Arshe rebutted the claim saying security was not a motive for the pullout by Ethiopian Airlines.

More than 450 passengers remain stranded across Hargeisa for the 5th day and Mr. Arshe has called on Ethiopian to immediately compensate them. He denied his ministry made any mistakes and strongly defended Egal International Airport's infrastructure upgrade. He instead blamed Ethiopian for the ordeal.

"Ethiopian airlines should bear full responsibility requires airlines compensate passengers if their flight is cancelled or heavily delayed and also Ethiopian airlines also have a duty of care to look after stranded passengers," he said in a press release.

The fall between Somaliland ministry's aviation and the region's biggest carrier has equally created myriad fluctuations in Somaliland and Ethiopia's over all relations. The Ethiopian government has refused to intervene and so far has shown little interest in keeping relations with Somaliland region or any of its concerns despite the fact that Somaliland already dispatched two senior ministers, namely, Aviation Minister and Interior.

The Ethiopian government already handles Somaliland region with a distrustful eye since it accuses several senior ministers of having ties with Al Qaeda linked al Shabab group. Ever Since the Kulmiye administration of President Ahmed Silanyo came to power in mid-2010, Addis Ababa has protested Somaliland's presidency minister Hirsi Ali Haji Hassan, Religious affairs minister Sheikh Khalil Abdilahi Ahmed and Minister of Finance Sheikh Abdulaziz Samale as having links to al Shabab.

Meanwhile, Hargeisa dispatched a heavily armed anti-terrorist unit to disperse the stranded passengers who gathered in the city center on Wednesday night. More 400 people including sick women and children were asked to leave the premises of the travel agency that was handling Ethiopian Airlines tickets.

The freezing of Ethiopian to Somaliland comes days after Anglo-Turkish oil giant Genel Energy also pulled out off the region citing security.

Somaliland has been trying to secede from the rest of the Somali state for more than two decades to no success.

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