UAE welcomes Somali apology for seized cash, easing dispute

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates late Tuesday welcomed the prime minister of Somalia’s public apology for a Somali operation in 2018 that resulted in the seizure of Emirati aircraft and $9.6 million in cash, wrecking relations between the two nations.

The Emirati foreign ministry thanked Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble for his “initiative” to settle the dispute, which prompted the UAE to end a military training mission in Somalia that had helped the conflict-ravaged nation rebuild after decades of chaos.

The Somali prime minister’s apology “opens a new page,” senior Emirati diplomat Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “The UAE continues its steps towards restoring bridges and reconnecting with various countries in its quest to enhance regional stability.”

In a dramatic incident in April 2018, Somali agents boarded an Emirati airplane at the Mogadishu airport, held Emirati soldiers at gunpoint and made off with bags of cash that the country’s security services claimed were undeclared U.S. dollars. The UAE said the funds had been flown in to pay salaries of Somali soldiers and provide other aid.

Last month as the UAE dispatched planeloads of humanitarian aid to drought-stricken Somalia, Roble offered a formal apology to the Emirati government for the confiscation of the $9.6 million. He promised Somalia would return the seized funds “as soon as possible.”

“A new dawn of normalizing relations,” Roble tweeted at the time. “After a period of cold relations, Somalia & UAE are now on a progressive path to solve their differences & resume the brotherly ties.”

The row came as the UAE, along with three other Arab states, broke ties with Qatar, claiming the state supported terrorism. The ensuing political rivalry was deeply felt in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa, where wealthy Gulf Arab sheikhdoms have poured millions of dollars and vied for power and profits in recent years.

Somalia’s federal government had remained neutral in Gulf’s diplomatic crisis, with many suspecting Mogadishu’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was aligned with Qatar despite intense Saudi and Emirati pressure to denounce Doha. The embargo officially ended a year ago as Saudi Arabia led regional efforts at reconciliation.

Even as Prime Minister Roble pledged to hand over the money to the Emirates earlier this year, President Mohamed ordered the central bank against releasing the $9.6 million “due to its illegal entry into our nation,” his spokesman said in a statement last month. A political dispute between the leaders has threatened to further destabilize the troubled African nation.

Somalia is led by a federal government that tries to wield power over regional states. Despite Mogadishu’s official neutrality, the federal states had declared support for the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the boycott of Qatar.

The Emirates has invested heavily in infrastructure in Somalia’s breakaway territory of Somaliland, with Dubai-owned DP World port operator running a major port in the area.

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