Somaliland's defense minister has resigned to protest his government signing an agreement to allow landlocked Ethiopia to access Somaliland's coastline.

“Ethiopia remains our number one enemy,” Abdiqani Mohamud Ateye said in an interview with local television on Sunday.

Somalia has protested the deal as a threat to its sovereignty by Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia decades ago but lacks international recognition for its claims of being an independent state.

Ateye asserted that in an earlier meeting with Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, he expressed his belief that stationing Ethiopian troops in Somaliland was fundamentally inappropriate.

He said he also argued that the proposed construction site for the Ethiopian marine force base rightfully belonged to his community, but that the president dismissed his concerns.

There was no immediate response from the Somaliland or Ethiopian governments to the minister's assertions.

Somaliland, a region strategically located next to the Gulf of Aden, broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country collapsed into warlord-led conflict.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland's president signed the memorandum of understanding for access to the sea last week. As part of the deal, Somaliland would lease a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) stretch of its coastline to Ethiopia.

Somaliland’s defense minister accused Ethiopia's prime minister of attempting to acquire the stretch of coastline without proper negotiations. “Abiy Ahmed wants to take it without renting or owning it,” he said.

The agreement has triggered protests across Somaliland, with citizens divided over the deal. Some see potential economic benefits. Others fear compromising their sovereignty.

With a population of more than 120 million, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world. It lost its access to the sea when Eritrea seceded in 1993. Ethiopia has been using the port in neighboring Djibouti for most of its imports and exports since then.

While in the short term the agreement may not affect regional stability because Somalia has no means to impose its will by force on Somaliland, in the longer term states like Djibouti and Egypt may be affected, said Matt Bryden, strategic advisor for Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank.

“Djibouti may perceive a threat to its commercial interests as Ethiopia’s principal port. Egypt may resist Ethiopia’s ambitions to establish a naval presence in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Members of the African Union and Arab League will be lobbied by all parties to take positions. So an escalation in political and diplomatic posturing on all sides is very likely,” he said.

Source: Associated Press by Omar Faruk

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