president of the breakaway republic of Somaliland said on Thursday he would not
talk to Somalia's new government in Mogadishu unless it first renounced its claims
to his self-declared state.
Mohamed Ibrahim Egal said reunification of the country was not impossible in the
long term, but could never be imposed on his northern Somaliland region. Somaliland,
a former British protectorate, declared its independence from the rest of Somalia
in 1991 after a brutal civil war, taking advantage of the overthrow of Somali
dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
In the years that followed, much of the rest of Somalia descended into clan-based
anarchy, while the people of Somaliland rebuilt their region, largely in peace.
But Somaliland's hard-won independence has never been recognised by the international
community, and now its people fear the new government of Abdiqassim Salad Hassan
in Mogadishu is bent on taking it away.
"If he (Abdiqassim) comes to see me as the president of Somalia, and he talks
to me as the president of Somaliland, we can talk -- and fruitfully," Egal told
Reuters. "But so long as he maintains he is my president, there is no way I can
talk to him without denying myself."
Abdiqassim was appointed president of Somalia in August after a lengthy conference
of Somali clan leaders in neighbouring Djibouti, although many of the country's
most powerful warlords still oppose him.
did not attend the conference and said Abdiqassim had assured him before the meeting
started it would only concern itself with the problems of southern Somalia. Since
then, Abdiqassim has assumed the mantle of leader of a Somalia which includes
Somaliland, Egal says.
has also appointed two northerners from Somaliland as his prime minister and foreign
minister -- a move seen by many as an attempt to undermine Egal and divide Somaliland.
Egal dismissed the appointments, saying Abdiqassim was only "shooting himself
in the leg" by trying to interfere in the north before he had brought peace to
people in Somaliland remember Abdiqassim as interior minister under Siad Barre,
whose brutal repression of the region killed tens of thousands of people and levelled
the city of Hargeisa in the 1980s. "There is a great deal of hostility and bad
blood towards him in the country," Egal said. "I regard him quite frankly as a
very, very shallow opportunist."
1960, just after independence from Britain, Somaliland joined the former Italian
colony of Somalia to form the Somali Republic. Egal says that union never worked,
and has long campaigned for Somaliland to be recognised within its old colonial
borders. Even so, he holds out the possibility of eventual reunification.
"If they conquer the problems of the south and establish a central authority,
then we will be prepared to sit down with what they produce," he said. "We can
even talk about a reunification -- if we can find an equitable and fair way to
if it not possible (to reunite), and I don't think it will be because they will
not accept our terms, we will talk about a peaceful and brotherly separation,
with a lot of links left intact."