Turkish Airlines starts commercial flights to Somalia

Istanbul to Mogadishu flight is first airline service linking Somali capital with world beyond east Africa since descent into war

The first major commercial airline flight into Somalia’s volatile capital in more than 20 years has touched down safely.

Turkish Airlines’ maiden flight to Mogadishu was the first from outside east Africa since the country descended into anarchy and war. It was the latest sign of confidence in growing stability in the Somali capital – and of Turkey’s emergence as an influential geopolitical player.

Bekir Bozdag, the Turkish deputy prime minister, was among a high-profile delegation on board the flight from Istanbul’s Atatürk airport. He was welcomed by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, as well as the acting prime minister, parliamentary speaker and other members of the cabinet.

Bozdag said: “After 20 years of a lack of international flights to Europe, Asia and America, the Turkish government has facilitated for the Somalis to travel by Turkish Airlines to the world again.”

UN ambassadors and officials were also present. A group of women danced and sang as the aircraft landed at an airport that for many years was controlled by rival militia groups.

Turkey’s national carrier intends to operate a twice-weekly passenger service from Istanbul and hopes it will prove popular with Somali exiles around the world.

Cemalettin Kani Torun, the Turkish ambassador to Somalia, told the Africa Review website that Turkish Airlines flew to 146 destinations around the world, adding: “Such a huge network will facilitate diaspora Somalis flying home.”

A number of private airlines, including Kenya-based African Express, fly into Somalia from neighbouring countries but Turkish Airlines is the first from outside the region.

Security in Mogadishu was stepped up ahead of the flight, with main roads leading to the airport blocked off. Heavily armed police could be seen manning checkpoints.

The flight follows a visit to Mogadishu last year by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he wanted to challenge the idea that the Somali capital was a no-go area. Erdogan, the first leader from outside Africa to visit for nearly two decades, said he would set up an embassy in Somalia and promised major infrastructure projects in Mogadishu.

Turkey has been quicker than other countries to make its presence felt in reconstruction efforts since the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab was driven out of Mogadishu by African Union soldiers. Some 200 Turkish nationals are now living and working in the city on construction, logistics, aid and other projects, while over the past year Turkey has reportedly sent $365m in cash and in-kind aid to Somalia. In December, Turkish officials announced a plan to modernise Mogadishu’s Aden Abdulle international airport.

Istanbul will host a follow-up to the recent London conference on Somalia in June.

The engagement reflects Turkey’s efforts to boost its profile in Africa, as it has in the Middle East in recent years, and to promote itself as a model Muslim democracy. It has increased trade and opened several new African embassies, mainly in Islamic states.

Somalia has been engulfed in chaos and conflict for more than 20 years. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that fighting, famine and disease have killed up to a million people since the last government collapsed in 1991. But al-Shabaab is under attack on several fronts, with troops from Kenya and Ethiopia also gaining territory recently.

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from David Smith

via http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/06/turkish-airlines-flights-somalia-mogadishu

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