Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Somaliland opposes Africa call to ease U.N. embargo

HARGEISA, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Somaliland has reacted angrily to a call by African leaders for a partial easing of a United Nations arms embargo on lawless Somalia, fearing the weapons may one day be turned against the breakaway enclave.

African Union member states last week urged the United Nations to make an exemption in the embargo to allow foreign peacekeepers to enter the Horn of Africa nation and help it restore a functioning government.

Somalia has been without a central government since 1991 and remains a patchwork of fiefdoms ruled by rival warlords. An interim administration formed in neighbouring Kenya returned last year but has limited control over the country.

Some east African states have said they would be willing to contribute peacekeepers, but Somali officials say the United Nations would need to ease the embargo before any foreign soldiers could be deployed.

Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia when the country plunged into anarchy 15 years ago but is not recognised internationally, believes such a move could pose a threat to its self-declared independence.

"Somaliland will not hesitate to arm itself if the United Nations Security Council accepts the recommendation of the African Union and lifts the arms embargo on Somalia," President Dahir Rayale Kahin told reporters at the weekend.

Even though an exemption in the embargo would be aimed only at allowing peacekeepers to enter Somalia, Somaliland officials say it would strengthen the position of President Abdullahi Yusuf and help him move against the self-declared republic.

"It is a matter of great concern, for arming Mr Yusuf will start a new armed confrontation in the Horn," a Somaliland official said.

An editorial in the Republican newspaper put it bluntly:

"Mr A. Yusuf needs the lifting of the arms embargo and African (peacekeeping) troops not for peace, (but) to realize his dream of ruling Somalia including Somaliland by force."

Somali officials have said that Somaliland, a former British protectorate of 3.5 million, is part of Somalia, but that they want to resolve the issue peacefully and through dialogue.

Though the territory in northwestern Somalia is relatively peaceful and stable, its campaign for recognition has not convinced the international community.

The United Nations has refused previous requests to lift or ease the embargo on Somalia, in place since 1992.

Diplomats say the Somali government needs to be clearer about exactly why it needs peacekeepers -- to protect state institutions or to help with disarmament.

They say its lack of clarity has made the international community reluctant to consider the issue.

By Hussein Ali Nur

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