Somali Leader Seeks Lifting of Flight Ban

( [email protected] ) Jun 26, 2003 04:06 AM EDT

The Somali Transitional National Government wants Kenya to lift the flight ban on the country.

The closing of Kenyan airspace to aeroplanes from Somalia will only add to the suffering of its citizens and undermine the on-going peace talks, President Abdi Qassim Salat Hassan said. His call came barely two days after the ban was effected.

He was addressing a press conference at the Grand Regency Hotel in Nairobi yesterday.
The president said he hoped the ban would be lifted in two or three days.

"Kenya is a friend and a brotherly neighbour to Somalia and I'm sure the decision to ban all flights to Somalia is a temporary security measure which I hope will be lifted in a day or two."

He added: "Somali tribal and political leaders use the flights to take part in the on-going peace negotiations and there is no doubt that the decision to ban flights to Somalia can seriously interfere with the process."

The TNG leader hosted Somalis living in Nairobi at the hotel.

President Hassan downplayed the threat of terrorism in Somalia, insisting that little evidence existed of terrorist cells in his country.

He said no Somali had been directly implicated in terrorism, adding that his citizens opposed terrorism in all its forms.

President Hassan claimed that he suspected that terrorist training camps were in the south-western region of Gedo, controlled by militia friendly to the Ethiopian government.

However, he said the terrorists no longer operated in the region.

He said disarming Somali militia would be the single biggest challenge for any new administration and would require international support.

The proliferation of huge amounts of illegal weapons posed a serious threat not only to Somalia but to neighbouring countries as well, he said.

Meanwhile, the effects of the flight ban started biting with air operators and traders reporting loss of millions of shillings.

Operations at the busy Wilson Airport were at a standstill with miraa businesses incurring huge losses.

The manager of Blue Bird Aviation, Capt Hussein Mohamed, said the ban would seriously affect the business, adding that job losses would follow shortly if the ban remained in force.

A miraa trader said he was losing Sh200,000 a day because of the flight ban and appealed to the Government to reconsider the decision.