United States envoy urges Ethiopia, Somalia leaders to de-escalate tension


A US envoy said Wednesday she encouraged the leaders of Somalia and Ethiopia to de-escalate tensions after a rift over Addis Ababa reaching a maritime deal with breakaway Somaliland.

Ethiopia, which lost access to the Red Sea three decades ago with Eritrea's independence, last month signed a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland to lease its coast for 50 years as it seeks a naval base and commercial port.

Molly Phee, the top US diplomat for Africa, met separately in Addis Ababa with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and in Mogadishu with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and said the United States offered to help them "communicate better."

"The region can ill-afford more conflict," she told reporters.

"We are encouraging all sides to de-escalate the tensions that were provoked by the MOU," she said.

"Ethiopia's desire for increased commercial port access -- a valid concern -- should be resolved through talks with the federal government of Somalia and neighboring states or possibly as part of a regional approach," she said.

"The issue of Somaliland's status should be resolved by the people of Somalia, including the people of Somaliland, not by external actors."

Somaliland declared independence in 1991, a move never recognized internationally. Somaliland has largely maintained stability as much of Somalia descended into fighting and anarchy.

Somalia has protested Ethiopia's move and on Tuesday sealed a 10-year deal with Turkey to help defend Somalia's coastline and rebuild its navy.

Tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia boiled over at a weekend summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, with Mohamud saying Ethiopian security prevented him from entering the venue.

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