Kenya suspended flights to and from Somalia for three months, jeopardizing a detente that Qatar brokered in a bid to ease diplomatic tension between the nations.
The announcement came after Somalia’s aviation agency on Monday intercepted two Kenyan flights carrying khat, a mild narcotic stimulant. Kenyan authorities haven’t publicly said why they suspended Somalia flights. Kenya’s ban excludes planes on special medical and United Nations humanitarian missions.
“We’ve put three months as we wait for further instructions,” Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director-General Gilbert Kibe said on phone from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “It may be extended or not.”
The two nations have had frosty relations for years and are currently locked in a dispute over the ownership of an area off their shared Indian Ocean coastline—that’s said to be rich in oil, gas and fish. Somalia wants to use the resources to support its recovery after more than two decades of civil war, while Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, is looking to boost its treasury to fund an infrastructure expansion plan.
The tension doesn’t bode well for the fight against al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based al Qaeda-linked group that crossed into Kenya and staged deadly attacks on civilians. Kenya last month decided to close some of the world’s biggest refugee camps near the border with Somalia, accusing asylum seekers of harboring people linked to terror raids in their territory.
Somalia said last week it was restoring diplomatic links with Kenya following mediation by Qatar. In December last year, both countries expelled each other’s envoy over allegations of political interference.
Somalia’s interception of the flights carrying 18 tons of khat from Kenya came after its civil aviation agency on Sunday warned against bringing in khat. Farmers in Kenya have grown and exported the drug to Somalia for years.
“We immediately sent the aircrafts back to Kenya and revoked their license to operate in Somalia’s airspace,” Somalia Civil Aviation Authority Director General Ahmed Hassan said by phone.
Kenya’s foreign ministry spokesperson declined to comment when contacted on Tuesday.