Airport standoff escalates tensions between United Arab Emirates, Somalia

A view of Bosaso International Airport in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland (file photo)
Recent tensions have escalated between the United Arab Emirates and Somalia over Emirati relations with a breakaway Somali region, with a flight carrying Emirati military trainers held for hours at an airport in Somalia.
The standoff began on Saturday when Emirati military trainers on board a plane at Bosaso International Airport in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland refused to allow checks of their suspiciously “heavy” baggage.
The refusal by the Emiratis resulted in hours of delay imposed by Somali authorities.
According to local reports, the Emiratis eventually agreed to allow airport security forces to check their baggage, and authorities then allowed the plane to depart.
It was not clear what the baggage contained.
The incident coincided with a similar one at Bosaso seaport, where a UAE-flagged ship was disallowed to dock at the port.
In a separate incident last week, the Somali federal government seized $9.6 million dollars in sealed bags from a UAE Royal Jet at Mogadishu International Airport. The Emirati government condemned the state confiscation, calling the move “illegal.”
The Somali government, in response, complained that the UAE aimed to destabilize Somalia.
Relations between Somalia and the oil-rich Persian Gulf state have been deteriorating since the UAE began to operate a major port in Somalia’s breakaway territory of Somaliland.
UAE leaders have invited officials from the autonomous region, suggesting that the country is moving toward officially recognizing Somaliland’s self-declared independence.
The UAE is also building a military base in Somaliland which it can use to maintain its shipping interests in the Gulf of Aden.
Somaliland is located in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb area across from Yemen. Bab-el Mandeb Strait is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in the transit of oil and gas. 
In order to impose full control over the strategic waterway, the UAE has been expanding its naval presence in the East African states of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.
The tiny Emirates has also been part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been waging a three-year military aggression against Yemen.
Somalia’s internationally-backed government is reportedly planning to file a legal complaint against the UAE for setting up a military base in the unrecognized breakaway Somaliland.