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Somalia disbands UAE programme to pay, train hundreds of soldiers

By Reuters - Apr 12,2018 - Last updated at Apr 12,2018

NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalia has disbanded a United Arab Emirates programme to train some of its troops in a fresh sign that a dispute in the Gulf involving Qatar is spilling into the volatile country in the Horn of Africa.

The government will take over paying and training the soldiers in the programme, Defence Minister Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman told Somalia’s state news agency SONNA on Wednesday.

The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 as part of an effort boosted by an African Union military mission to defeat an extremist insurgency and secure the country for the government, which is backed by Western nations, Turkey and the United Nations.

Analysts say Somalia’s relations with the UAE are strained by a dispute between Qatar and Saudi because Mogadishu has refused to take sides. Arab states have strong trading links with and influence in Somalia, but that is offset by the sway of Qatar and its ally Turkey, one of Somalia’s biggest foreign investors.

“Somalia will fully take over [its troops] trained by the UAE ... Those forces will be added to the various battalions of the Somalia National Army,” Abdirahman said, adding that the troops would be integrated into other units on Thursday. 

There was no immediate comment from the UAE government.

Somali security staff seized $9.6 million at Mogadishu airport on Sunday from a plane that had landed from the UAE. 

On Tuesday, the UAE denounced the seizure of the money, which it said was destined to pay the soldiers. The Mogadishu government said it was investigating what the money was for.

The seizure has fuelled a belief among many Somalis that foreign powers cause their country’s problems, analysts said. 

Somalia has lacked a strong central government since 1991.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Tuesday that his government was trying to resolve the issue with Mogadishu, but Abdirahman’s statement casts doubt on progress.

The Gulf state is one of the main donors to Somalia’s security sector, according to a report by the International Peace Institute think tank. 

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