Friday, July 07, 2006

INTERVIEW-Somaliland says Somalia unrest helps statehood bid

DAKAR, July 7 (Reuters) - International unease over last month's seizure of Somalia's capital Mogadishu by Islamists may help the self-declared breakaway republic of Somaliland in its quest for international recognition, a Somaliland minister said.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 when President Mohammed Siad Barre's overthrow plunged the Horn of Africa state into chaos. The country was then carved into fiefdoms by warlords who were forced out by the Islamic Courts Union in June after heavy fighting.

Somaliland's government and its supporters say their enclave has maintained relative peace and stability while Mogadishu has become a byword for violence and chaos, and that this should be rewarded with greater international recognition.

"Somehow the bad news travels faster. I think the (recognition) process should have been accelerated long ago, but now with the situation in Mogadishu, that is happening," Somaliland's Information Minister Abdillahi Duale told Reuters.

We are not taking advantage of what is happening unfortunately in Somalia. That is not the point, what is the point is that we have a legitimate case," Duale said in a telephone interview from Gambia, where he spent last weekend lobbying delegates at an African Union (AU) summit.

No foreign governments have recognised Somaliland, but diplomats say some governments in east and central Africa have privately supported the independence bid.

But there has long been a preference in Africa -- stemming from the AU predecessor the Organisation of African Unity -- to keep the borders defined at independence intact, for fear of opening the floodgates to a host of secessionist claims.

Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin's government says it has a special case since Somaliland, formerly ruled by Britain, was independent from June 26, 1960, until it voluntarily joining the rest of formerly Italian-ruled Somalia on July 1.

Somalia's transitional federal government, which now only controls the small town of Baidoa, has said it opposes the breakaway move by Somaliland.


The Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank said in a May report that support was growing for Somaliland's statehoood case, but it added that without a negotiated separation the dispute risked descending into violence.

Duale said during the AU summit in Gambia he and Finance Minister Hussein Ali Dualeh had met several African foreign ministers, some African leaders, Britain's Africa minister David Triesman and a U.S. State Department delegation.

"All in all we have been quite satisfied with our dealings. We were not expecting at this stage outright recognition, but it was brought up at the ministerial level meetings. A number of countries brought it up and it was discussed," Duale said.

But he disagreed strongly with the call by the AU Peace and Security Council for the United Nations to relax an arms embargo to allow Somalia's transitional government to build up its security forces and pave the way for a regional peace force.

"In every household there are at least six guns, big or small, so you're talking about a country that is already awash with weapons. It's beyond reason to believe that the AU and the international community is encouraging (ending the embargo)," Duale said of Somalia.

"We are not out to take action against anybody, but if we feel our peace is threatened, then we will not hesitate to take action against them," he said.

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