Civilian passenger flights to and from Ugaas Khalif Airport in Beletweyne were cancelled on Saturday as a result of an order issued by Ali Jeyte, the immediate past governor of Hiiraan state.
The order was made by Jeyte, who has since declared himself the interim leader of the “Hiiraan Administration,” and restricted all civilian aircraft except those transporting cargo and African Union flights.
The decision, which was overturned by the HirShabelle administration, instructed that civilian passenger flights to and from the airport be suspended from June 24 to June 28. According to sources, there have been no civilian aircraft into or out of the airport since the order was issued.
HirShabelle President Ali Gudlawe fired Jeyte earlier this month amid reports of tax collection problems in the province. Following that, the three-time governor claimed that he would spearhead the foundation of “Hiiraan State,” of which he is now the interim leader.
Residents and travellers who rely on air transport for their everyday activities have expressed concern about the cancellation of civilian flights.
Several organisations, notably the African Union, have condemned the move, calling for the rapid resumption of civilian flights.
In recent months, the Hiiraan region has been a hotbed of political tensions, with disagreements between the regional government and the federal government centred on revenue collection.
Civilian flight cancellations are likely to aggravate the situation and contribute to increased unrest in the region.
The Somali federal government has urged Jeyte to reverse his decision and allow civilian flights to restart immediately. The government has also emphasised its resolve to settle the revenue collecting conflict peacefully.
The cessation of civilian flights is a setback for the residents of Hiiraan and the neighbouring areas, who rely on air travel for economic and social activity. It is hoped that the situation will be resolved shortly and that civilian flights to and from Ugaas Khalif Airport in Beletweyne will resume.