Heavily armed soldiers have seized the largest airport in the semiautonomous state of Puntland, northern Somalia for hours in protest at the government’s failure to pay them their salaries and bonuses for months
The seizure of Gen. Mohamed Abshir airport on Saturday and fronted by mid-rank and senior paramilitary officers including generals added pressure to political campaigns by the incumbent president Abdiweli Mohamed Ali who is positioning himself for a potential run in the forthcoming presidential election which is expected to draw over ten candidates running for the region’s top seat.
According to military sources who spoke to Hiiraan Online, the brazen raid was staged by the troops who have abandoned their army positions in Tukaraq, a flashpoint town in the region’s north which has been deadly fighting between troops from Puntland its neighboring breakaway territory of Somaliland in recent months in protest against months of missing payments.
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According to officials, the airport’s seizure occurred as planes were landing and others were preparing to take off has briefly disrupted the airport’s operations for hours and forced some flights to be diverted elsewhere.
The airport had only reopened late in the afternoon following negotiations by officials who convinced soldiers to abandon positions they have taken at the airport.
Protests by soldiers complaining over pay became common in the region in recent months. Hundreds of soldiers have blocked a highway leading to Puntland’s state house last month, demanding months of unpaid salaries.
Critics accused the president of diverting months of payments meant for the army to fund election campaigns, adding layers to potential security challenges in the region which is fighting two armed insurgent groups linked to both Al-Shabab and IS.
In meantime, as elections campaigns entered the final stages, the Puntland state which has earlier imposed ban on political gatherings has warned presidential candidates against maintaining heavy weapons, citing security concerns and traffic congestion it blamed on the candidates’ ‘large’ security details’, according to Abdi Ali, the information minister.
The measures which analysts warned could fester tensions between the state and candidates trying to unseat the incumbent president Abdiweli Mohamed Ali in the forthcoming election are seen as a veiled attempt by the outgoing regional leader to derail the electoral process through pressure in order to extend his term.
Just few months before the election, all leading political parties are holding public rallies and corner meetings across the region as their flagbearers and candidates have criss-crossed across respective constituencies, wooing locals with promises of economic development and prosperity for Puntland which is expected to hold the election which is expected to be a highly contested one.