MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s government rebuked its three semi-autonomous regions on Thursday for cutting ties with Qatar, saying it was determined to stay neutral in the Gulf nation’s dispute with other Arab states.
The region of Galmudug issued a statement on Wednesday saying it stood with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the regional row, followed similar declarations last month by the regions of Puntland and Hirshabelle.
Somalia’s federal government responded by saying only it had the authority to speak on foreign affairs.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut political and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their arch-foe Iran - charges that Doha denies.
The spat about it in volatile but strategically located Somalia illustrated how far the political ripples from Qatar’s dispute have spread.
Somalia’s open stance is important for Qatar - Somalia’s airspace remains open for Qatar Airways, a critical lifeline amid the blockade.
Gulf Arab States have meanwhile been pouring resources into the semi-autonomous regions.
“(The Arab states) are trying to give more energy and emphasize more their relations with these regional governments, trying to pressure them to go against the federal government,” said Nairobi-based Somalia expert Ahmed Roble.
The choice by those regions to break from the federal government and reject Qatar, is unsurprising, Roble added.
Somalia’s position also underlines its delicate position - dependent on trade from Saudi Arabia, but increasing close to Turkey, which is backing Qatar in the dispute.
Saudi Arabia in Somalia’s top export partner, and the United Arab Emirates supplies the horn of Africa country with key imports from electronics to building materials.
Turkey has poured in more than $1 billion in aid since President Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Somalia in 2011 and is expected to open a military base in Mogadishu this month.
“The cabinet reaffirms the federal government’s decision in June ... that Somalia is neutral about the conflict of Gulf countries,” read a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.
The statement called on “the conflict be solved brotherly, peacefully and diplomatically.”
Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Andrew Heavens