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Somalia stops UAE military training programme

UAE training in Somalia stoppedSomalia disbanded a United Arab Emirates programme to train troops in a fresh sign that a dispute in the Gulf involving Qatar is spilling into the volatile country in the Horn of Africa.

Government will take over paying and training soldiers in the programme, Defence Minister Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman told Somalia’s state news agency SONNA.

The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 as part of an effort boosted by an African Union military mission to defeat an Islamist insurgency and secure the country for government, which is backed by Western nations, Turkey and the United Nations.

Analysts say Somalia’s relations with UAE are strained by a dispute between Qatar and Saudi because Mogadishu refuses to take sides. Arab states have strong trading links with and influence in Somalia offset by the sway of Qatar and its ally Turkey, one of Somalia’s biggest foreign investors.

“Somalia will fully take over its troops trained by the UAE. Those forces will be added to various battalions of the Somalia National Army,” Abdirahman said, adding the troops would be integrated into other units.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE government.

Somali security staff seized $9.6 million at Mogadishu airport on Sunday from a plane that landed from the UAE.

On Tuesday, the UAE denounced the seizure of the money, which it said was to pay the soldiers. The Mogadishu government was investigating what the money was for.

The seizure fuelled a belief among many Somalis that foreign powers cause their country’s problems, analysts said. Somalia has lacked a strong central government since 1991.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said his government was trying to resolve the issue with Mogadishu but Abdirahman’s statement cast doubt on progress.

The Gulf state is one of the main donors to Somalia’s security sector, according to a report by the International Peace Institute think-tank.

Last year the United States suspended food and fuel aid for most of Somalia’s armed forces over corruption concerns. Other military donors include Turkey, which has a military base in Somalia.

An official from Somalia’s foreign affairs ministry told Reuters the contract with the UAE to train its security forces expired in 2016, though it was unclear how the programme continued.