By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Rival forces from Somalia’s army shot at each other in the capital Mogadishu on Monday, with one group trying to storm a training center the United Arab Emirates left behind after it ended a training program there, soldiers and residents said.
The clash was an indication of the difficulty in rebuilding unified security forces for a state where centralized authority collapsed in 1991 and an internationally backed government, elected last year, faces huge challenges.
It was also another sign of the fallout from a crisis in the Gulf region that has spilled into the volatile Horn of Africa.
The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 as part of an effort boosted by an African Union military mission to defeat an Islamist insurgency and secure the country for the government backed by Western countries, Turkey and the United Nations.
The Gulf nation ended its program in Somalia this month in response after Somali security forces seized millions of dollars and temporarily held a UAE plane.
“Some Somali military forces attacked us at the base, they wanted to loot it but we repulsed them,” Ahmed Nur a soldier who was trained under the discontinued program, told Reuters.
After 90 minutes of sporadic gunfire, the training facility was secured by presidential palace guards, a Reuters journalist at the scene said.
Some of the UAE-trained Somali soldiers fled, said Abdirahman Abdullahi, a second soldier who was also trained under the program: “Most of my colleagues jumped over the wall and ran away with their guns. Others left the guns and ran away and so I had to (flee) also.”
Residents in the area said they saw UAE trained forces discarding their military uniforms and fleeing the facility in three-wheeled rickshaws with their guns in their laps.
Somalia’s relations with the UAE have been strained by a dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The UAE is part of a group of Arab states including Saudi Arabia that has ostracized Qatar. Countries on both sides of the dispute have influence in Somalia, and Mogadishu has refrained from taking sides.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Maggie Fick and Peter Graff)