Friday, March 03, 2006



WALES may not be an independent nation - but it has just recognised a breakaway country that, according to the UK Government, does not exist.

One of the officially invited guests at Wednesday's opening of the National Assembly's Senedd building by the Queen was Abdirahman Mohamed Abdillahi, the Speaker of the Parliament of Somaliland. Yet few maps show anywhere called Somaliland, instead indicating a larger country called Somalia, to the east of Ethiopia and Kenya.

In fact, Somaliland has been run as a separate state for the past 15 years, following a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

The breakaway country is on the eastern horn of Africa and shares borders with Djibouti to the west, Ethiopia to the south and Somalia to the east. Its coastline extends 460 miles along the Red Sea. It is about the size of England and Wales combined, but has a population of only around 3.5 million; 55% of the population is either nomadic or semi-nomadic, while 45% live in urban centres or rural towns.

The predominant religion is Sunni Muslim, and the backbone of the economy is livestock. The country also exports hides, skins, myrrh and frankincense.

At independence in 1960 the British Protectorate and Italian- administered Somalia merged to form the Somali Republic. The fundamental goal was to unite all Somali-speaking people in a single country, but this has not been realised. Somaliland covers the former British protectorate.
Of the 10,000 Somalis living in Wales - 8,000 in Cardiff - around 99% are from what is now Somaliland.

Asked why the Speaker of a Parliament not recognised by the UK had been invited to the Senedd opening, a spokeswoman for the Assembly Parliamentary Service headed by Presiding Officer Lord Elis-Thomas said, "The decision was taken after a request from members of the Somali community in Wales. Buckingham Palace was shown the guest list and made no objection."

Yesterday Mr Abdillahi met members of the Welsh Somali community in Butetown, Cardiff. A former diplomat who worked in Somalia's embassies in Moscow and Helsinki, he told the Western Mail, "I am very pleased to have been invited to the opening of the new Assembly building. We see it as a mark of recognition by the National Assembly for Wales that we have legitimacy.

"Although I have travelled to Britain maybe 20 times, this is the first time I have been to Wales. It seems to me to be a very nice, peaceful place."
Mr Abdillahi said his country desperately needed international recognition.
"It is very difficult to move forward economically without recognition," he said.
"We have no banks, and companies are reluctant to invest because of our unrecognised status, which means they are unable to get insurance.
"While Somalia is in chaos, we have succeeded in creating a parliamentary democracy. International observers praised us for our parliamentary elections held last September, and we are hopeful that the African Union will admit us as a member state before too long.
"We are grateful to the Welsh Assembly for helping us in our struggle."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website states, "Parliamentary elections were held on September 29, 2005. Somaliland's stability has been widely acknowledged but it has not received formal recognition from the international community.
"It has stood aside from wider reconciliation processes but indicated its readiness to discuss relations with Somalia on a basis of equality once a new government is established in Mogadishu."

The FCO website carries a link to the website of the Somaliland Government.

Martin Shipton, Western Mail

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