Somalia in fresh tiff with UN, Amisom over airport terminal

Monday January 03 2022

African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) soldiers patrol in Somalia on July 17, 2016. PHOTO | AFP


A row is brewing between Somalia and two peace missions over a decision to close a special airport facility used by the two organisations.

The row pits Somalia against the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNSOM) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

The terminal, known as Movcon, had been set up at the Aden Adde International Airport to facilitate the clearance and movement of forces and diplomats working for the two organisations.

But Somalia on December 21 abruptly closed it and ordered everyone to use the main airport terminal.

Now the two missions argue that the terminal was set up by the UN, meaning that it was immune from any operational interruptions, including shutting it or forcibly deploying local staff to it.

A note from the Somalia ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation said there had been “countless violations and breaches to immigration protocol” at Movcon in recent months, including reported harassment of Somali airport staff.


After the terminal was closed, both UNSOM and Amisom said publicly they would abide by Somalia’s decision.

“We take seriously any concerns that the Federal Government may raise about UN operations at any time and regret that this instruction to close was issued abruptly and with minimal prior consultation,” UNSOM said in a statement.

Resume the terminal operations

“We further regret that the closure was apparently prompted by allegations that have yet to be presented to the United Nations in detail to permit an inquiry. Further discussions on this matter are scheduled with Federal Government officials in the coming days.”

Last Thursday, however, both organisations formally protested the decision to the federal government, arguing the closed terminal now endangers soldiers and diplomats who move through the airport, carrying equipment such as weapons.

In a diplomatic letter (known as note verbale) seen by the Nation, they called on Somalia to “immediately” resume the terminal operations “in order to ensure our continued partnership for the smooth implementation of mandates of our organisations”.

“The decision by the government to abruptly close the UN/Amisom terminal is not consistent with the good cooperation and the harmonious working relationship that the United Nations and Amisom have established with the host country since the inception of the Mission in Somalia,” said a joint letter from the two groups to the Somalia ministry of foreign affairs.

Both UNSOM and Amisom have a significant number of staffers based in Mogadishu. Amisom troops also regularly use the airport to change locations or clear arriving or departing personnel.

The troops come from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

The joint letter said pushing their clearance to the main airport terminal has created congestion that renders personnel “immediately identifiable and a conspicuous high value target to ill-intentioned parties” and could endanger the lives of civilians at the airport.

Deploy its own security personnel

Since the facility was established, the UN and Amisom had traditionally used it to airlift supplies, estimated to be 750 tonnes a month, to other parts of the country, and clear rotating forces in Amisom and UN staffers.

The two missions said Somalia’s decision to shut down Movcon meant cargo and passengers would be cleared at the same terminal, which could delay normal flight schedules out of Mogadishu.

The five-point letter also warned the missions’ operations, including addressing supply shortages, could be hampered as officials will not travel with ease.
After Somalia shut down Movcon, the federal government said it would take over the terminal and deploy its own security personnel and civilian technocrats, accusing the missions of impunity, including bypassing clearance protocols.

UNSOM and Amisom say such deployment must follow the pact with the host country, known as the Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA), and that they should be consulted before the personnel are deployed.

The SOMA between Somalia and UNSOM says that regardless of whether the facilities set up by the UN in Somalia remain in Somali territory, they will be inviolable and “subject to the exclusive control and authority of the United Nations”.

The SOMA with the African Union says Amisom forces retain unimpeded access to their facilities.

It was unclear, though, whether Somalia could budge on the decision, coming just as Mogadishu and the African Union began discussions on the future of Amisom, whose mandate expires at the end of March.

The two missions have asked for a meeting with Somalia government officials on the Movcon matter.