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Somalia has cut diplomatic relations with neighboring Kenya, accusing the East African nation of meddling in its politics even as protests and gunfire erupted in the capital Mogadishu over delayed elections.
The diplomatic dispute may undermine cooperation in the fight against the Islamist group al Shabaab that controls huge swathes of southern and central Somalia. Kenya has provided 3,600 troops to an African Union peacekeeping force (AMISSOM) that is spearheading the fight.
“Somalia calls back all its diplomats from Kenya and orders Kenyan diplomats to leave Somalia within seven days,” Somali Information Minister Osman Dube told the state news agency.
Dube added in a statement read on Radio Mogadishu that Nairobi was interfering, but did not give more details. “This is an answer to the constant political violation and Kenya’s open interference in Somalia’s independence,” he said.
The Kenyan government did not immediately respond.
Mogadishu’s move to cut ties followed a two-day visit to Kenya by Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland that ended on Monday.
During the visit, Abdi and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged “unwavering commitment to deepen the cordial bilateral relations” between Kenya and Somaliland, according to a Kenyan presidency statement.
Mogadishu regards Somaliland as an integral part of Somalia.
Last month, Somalia expelled Nairobi’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy after alleging interference in the electoral process in Jubbaland. Jubbaland, which borders Kenya, is one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states.
Also last year, Kenya recalled its ambassador after Mogadishu decided to auction disputed oil and gas exploration blocks at sea. Ties were restored a few months later.
Moreover, anti-government protests erupted in Mogadishu as demonstrators denounced President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – usually known by his nickname “Farmajo” (cheese) – over delayed elections for both houses of parliament.
The votes were due early December, but became snagged on disagreements over the composition of the electoral board.
The opposition accuses the government of packing it with sympathizers, a claim officials deny.