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Turkey hosts first round of talks on port row

Turkish Foreign Minister Fidan said the negotiations have been ‘candid, cordial and forward-looking’

Turkey mediated the first round of talks between Somalia and Ethiopia’s foreign ministers on Monday in the first international attempt to ease diplomatic tensions between the two Horn of Africa states (AC Vol 65 No 14, Abiy Ahmed’s sovereignty deal with Muse Abdi risks more regional turmoil).

Somalia expelled Ethiopia’s diplomats from the country in the wake of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s move on New Year’s Day to offer recognition of Somaliland’s ‘independence’ in exchange for access to the Gulf of Aden.

Mogadishu has also threatened to dismiss thousands of Ethiopian troops currently based in the country as part of a regional mission to combat Al Shabaab  (AC Vol 65 No 2, Why Abiy and Muse signed a 'memorandum of misunderstanding').

The United States and the United Kingdom are among those backing the Turkish-led talks. After hosting Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taye Atskeselassie and Somalia’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said that the talks had been ‘candid, cordial and forward-looking’, though without providing any detail on the substance of what was discussed.

The dispute is also about geopolitical influence. The United Arab Emirates, which has stepped up its competition with other Gulf States for influence in East Africa and the Horn, is also supporting the Turkey talks. Last week, Africa Confidential reported that Prime Minister Abiy and President Muse Bihi Abdi of Somaliland had deliberately spread a rumour on X and other social platforms that Ethiopia planned to formally recognise Somaliland on 1 July in an attempt to put pressure on the negotiators. Somaliland officials say that they are not involved in the talks.

A second round of discussions is scheduled in Ankara on 2 September. However, it is not clear how much room for manoeuvre either side has, amid speculation that Somalia could consider a compromise offering Ethiopia some coastal access if it drops recognition of Somaliland’s statehood.

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