FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 file photo, Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed speaks at his inauguration ceremony in Mogadishu, Somalia. Somalia's president has begun a visit to Eritrea on Saturday July 28, 2018, in another possible diplomatic thaw in the restless Horn of Africa region. The two nations have not had diplomatic relations for nearly 15 years. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

Somali leader visits Eritrea in possible diplomatic thaw

July 28, 2018 - 8:49 am

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia's president has arrived in Eritrea amid another diplomatic thaw in the restless Horn of Africa region.

"Somalia is ready to write a new chapter of its relations with Eritrea," Abdinur Mohamed, a spokesman for President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, announced on Twitter.

The two nations have not had diplomatic ties for nearly 15 years. Eritrea, one of the world's most closed-off nations, remains under United Nations sanctions for allegedly supporting the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group. Eritrea denies it.

Eritrea's information minister, Yemane Meskel, said the three-day visit comes at the invitation of longtime leader Isaias Afwerki. "Both leaders have already held a summit," he said on Twitter, sharing photos of the meeting.

The visit by Somalia's leader follows a stunning diplomatic thaw in recent weeks between Eritrea and Ethiopia after more than two decades. Ethiopia under reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed already has asked that the U.N. sanctions on Eritrea be dropped.

The U.N. secretary-general has indicated that the sanctions could be obsolete.

The changing relations in the Horn of Africa region are of interest to the wealthy Gulf states just across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Already they have been jostling for influence in the African nations along one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, including both Somalia and Eritrea.

The United Arab Emirates, which set up a military base at Eritrea's post of Assab after a Saudi-led coalition launched its war against Shiite rebels in Yemen in 2015, has played a role in mending relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, in recent days hosting the leaders of both countries and praising their "bold" gestures.

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