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Interview-Somaliland Leader Denounces New Mogadishu Govt

 

The 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.

Egal 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.

He 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 the south.

ABDIQASSIM'S PAST REMEMBERED

Many 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."

In 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 reunite."

"But 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."

 





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