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Somaliland's 'path to recognition'

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin
Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin: seeking recognition

Amid the chaos that has afflicted the Horn of Africa over recent decades, there is an oasis of relative calm that is ignored by the rest of the world.

The self-declared Republic of Somaliland announced its independence from the rest of Somalia in May 1991 and has been searching for recognition in vain since then.

Now, it has received support from a think-tank active in development and security issues, the Senlis Council.

"A fast-track to recognition is urgently needed for Somaliland," a report from the council states.

'State-in-waiting'

It supports Somaliland's claim that it is not another enclave seeking separation. Such a separation would be against the principles of the African Union.

The Senlis Council argues that since Somaliland is basically the old British Somaliland, which was independent for five days in 1960 before uniting with Italian Somaliland, it should be regarded again as a state-in-waiting.

Somalia, showing breakaway region of Somaliland

The report calls for a "path to recognition" - including a referendum on independence, full transition to multi-party democracy and the rule of law, resolution of its territorial dispute with another region of Somalia, Puntland, and aid from the United States.

"Given the turmoil that characterises the bulk of Somalia, the international community needs to be reawakened from its torpor on Somaliland while relative calm exists," the report says.

Norine MacDonald, the Canadian lawyer who is the Senlis Council's president, said: "This is an untold story of remarkable endeavour.

"Somalia is not a functioning state. Somaliland is a functioning state. It is asking for recognition and we call on President George Bush to lead that recognition."

She remarked that while she could not move around Mogadishu on a recent visit, which she stressed was worse than Afghanistan and desperate for international aid, she was able to walk freely around the capital of Somaliland, Hargeisa.

The report places Somaliland in the context of what it calls the "chronic failures of the US-led war on terror" in Afghanistan, where Ms MacDonald is based, and Somalia.

This war, it claims, is "bolstering the legitimacy of Somali and Afghan extremists. The recognition of Somaliland is a political necessity in the fight against extremism."

Long struggle

Despite these calls, it is unlikely that the United States will move quickly towards formal recognition.

The position of the Bush administration was spelled out in a statement by the State Department on 17 January this year: "While the United States does not recognize Somaliland as an independent state, and we continue to believe that the question of Somaliland's independence should be resolved by the African Union, we continue regularly to engage with Somaliland as a regional administration."

The US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer met Somaliland's foreign minister last year.

So there is a kind of de facto acceptance of the split, but the US probably cannot afford to upset Somali President Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed, who opposes independence for Somaliland. Recognition for Somaliland would in effect be an admission that Somalia as a state had failed.

The president is an ally in the US fight against Islamic militants in the region, notably the Council of Islamic Courts and the al-Shabab movement.

The US is also seeking four suspects in Somalia it says were part of the al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

The African Union itself does not favour rearranging the borders of African countries, especially where there is no agreement. It feels that, rightly or wrongly, the colonial borders were fixed and that changing them would open up too much uncertainty.

There have been calls (from, among others, the International Crisis Group, another think-tank devoted to offering proposals on world problems) for the AU to take a more positive view of Somaliland independence but this has not led very far.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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