Somalia: Deni visits southwest by historic Mogadishu deal

BAIDOA, Somalia – Relations between Puntland and Southwest received a major boost on Wednesday after Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni visited his counterpart Abdiaziz Lafta-Gareen, who has been in charge for the past few years in the southern Somali federal state.

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On Wednesday and in the company of senior officials, Deni, who has been at the helm since 2019, arrived in Baidoa, the regional administrative capital of the Southwest, and was received by senior officials waiting for him at the airport.

This is the first major voyage from Deni to the Southwest, a regional state that has been battling al-Shabaab attacks, an al-Qaeda-linked group that has been eager to overthrow the weak UN-backed Somalia government year.

Lafta-Gareen, which was also installed in late 2018, is a close ally of President Farmajo and was put in charge after a failure. He ran against former Al-Shabaab deputy leader Mukhtaar Robow, and the competition led to a conflict in the state.

For a few days in December 2018, the authorities of the southwestern United States were involved in fighting with the people after the Ethiopian national defense forces [ENDF] in cooperation with the Somali National Army [SNA] arrested Robow and transferred him to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

Somali police shot dead dozens of unarmed civilians in Baidoa during a peaceful protest against the arrest of Robow before the region’s presidential election at the end of 2018. The extrajudicial killings have been condemned by the UN envoy to Somalia Mr. Haysom, who was later ordered to leave the country.

Since then, the former Al-Shabaab leader has been under the National Intelligence Security Agency [NISA] detention and calls to release him have fallen on deaf ears. A number of activists have demanded his release, but the state has yet to give in to the demands.

And Deni, speaking to reporters after his arrival, said his trip was intended to strengthen cooperation between the two states, adding that this will not be his last trip to Baidoa. But it was the first time he visited the region after he was elected Puntland’s president in 2017.

He is expected to hold talks on the upcoming national election with the southwestern state leadership. Recently, all five regional states signed an agreement with the federal government in Somalia before the election, but the international community has not yet appreciated the agreement.

It is believed that Deni is trying to reach out to as many regional heads of state as possible before the election in an attempt to gain the upper hand against President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who is seeking another term. However, it is not clear if he will compete for the top spot.