Somali people march against the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal at the Yarisow stadium in Mogadishu, Somalia January 3, 2024. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo 

By Giulia Paravicini

July 1 (Reuters) – Turkey has begun mediating talks between Somalia and Ethiopia over a port deal Addis Ababa signed with the breakaway region of Somaliland earlier this year, according to four officials familiar with the matter.

The negotiations are the latest attempt to mend diplomatic ties between the east African neighbours, whose relationship soured in January when Ethiopia agreed to lease 20 km (12 miles) of coastline from Somaliland, in exchange for recognition of its independence.

Mogadishu called the agreement illegal and retaliated by expelling the Ethiopian ambassador and threatening to kick out thousands of Ethiopian troops stationed in the country helping battle Islamist insurgents.

Spokespeople for the Somali government, Turkey’s foreign ministry, and Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, government and intelligence service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Somaliland, which has struggled to gain international recognition despite governing itself and enjoying comparative peace and stability since declaring independence in 1991, said it was not involved in the talks.

The goal of the negotiation was unclear, and expectations of a resolution were low, two of the officials said.

“Despite rumours that Somalia has softened its stance on refusing to engage in dialogue until Ethiopia withdraws the (agreement), it seems unlikely,” one of the officials said.

“I don’t see a way forward, and I don’t expect much will come from these talks.”

Turkey has become a close ally of the Somali government since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first visited Mogadishu in 2011, training its security forces and supplying development assistance.

The two nations signed a defence pact in February under which Ankara will provide maritime security support to Somalia to help the African country defend its territorial waters.

Turkey has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkey, and in return secured a foothold in Africa and on a key global shipping route.