A top official said Friday that forces from the United Arab Emirates could soon be flying fighter jets from a new base in the breakaway republic of Somaliland.
Somaliland Foreign Minister Saad Ali Shire said the UAE could use the base in the town of Berbera for any purpose, including "training, surveillance and military operations."
Berbera is about 250 kilometers south of Yemen, where a Saudi-led military coalition that includes UAE troops is fighting Houthi rebels.
The base is still under construction, but UAE Navy ships have docked at Berbera's deep-water port.
Shire, interviewed by VOA's Somali service in Washington, defended Somaliland's naval and air base deal with the UAE, which the parliament approved in February.
"We don't believe the use of the facility will add to the uncertainty and the conflict in the region, he said. "UAE has already a base in Assab, Eritrea, which is operational, and the use of the base in Berbera is not going to add anything new to the conflict."
The deal has generated controversy in Somalia, which considers Somaliland to be part of its territory. The Somali parliament has asked Somalia's president to clarify the government's stance on the deal. Dozens of lawmakers have voiced support for a motion opposing the UAE base.
The Somaliland foreign minister said his government sees the deal as an "economic transaction."
"The agreement is [for] UAE to use Berbera airport and port as a military facility, and in exchange, the UAE will be building roads, a new airport, and funding health, education and water energy," he said.
Previously, Somaliland signed a multimillion-dollar, 30-year deal with DP World, a Dubai company, to upgrade and manage the Berbera port. Ethiopia gets access to the port under the deal.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991, but no nation has so far recognized it as an independent state.