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Kenya, Somalia in fresh diplomatic row

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Kenya has expressed “regret” over the presence of a flag from Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland at a diplomatic briefing in Nairobi, which sparked a strong protest from Somalia.

Hours after Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya walked out of a diplomatic meeting in Nairobi because of the presence of a Somaliland envoy, Kenya’s foreign ministry regretted the “inappropriate presence” of a Somaliland flag, but made no mention of an envoy from the region, which declared independence in 1991.

“The ministry wishes to reaffirm its recognition of the sovereignty of a single federal government of Somalia and the integrity of the federal state of Somalia,” the Kenyan diplomatic statement added.

“Any inconvenience or embarrassment caused by this matter is deeply regretted,” the statement said.

This diplomatic faux pas comes just days after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Mogadishu for the inauguration of Somalia’s newly elected president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, marking an easing of relations between the two countries, which were stormy under the previous president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo.

Somalia also agreed on Friday to lift a ban on airlifting khat from Kenya, which had been in place for over two years.

Mogadishu had severed diplomatic relations with Kenya in December 2020, when Kenyatta received in Nairobi the president of the self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland, which is not recognized by the international community and which Mogadishu considers an integral part of Somalia.

Diplomatic relations were restored in August 2021.

The Somali embassy in Nairobi said Tuesday that it was “unfortunate” that Kenya had “intentionally invited” a Somaliland representative to a diplomatic meeting and granted him “privileges equal to those of a sovereign state despite the protest of the Somali ambassador.

A former British colony, Somaliland has economic relations with a handful of countries around the world, but remains an island of stability compared to Somalia, which has been ravaged by decades of political violence and a deadly Islamist insurgency.