- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

HARGEISA, Somalia In the center of this dusty town of stone houses with corrugated iron roofs intermingled with thorn bushes, the rusting shell of a Chinese-built fighter jet perches on a brick platform.

Officials of the Republic of Somaliland the breakaway northern part of Somalia, which is not recognized internationally put up the monument in June as a reminder of what happened the last time they were part of a united Somalia.

In 1988, as Somalia's civil war intensified, dictator Mohammed Siad Barre sent warplanes including the one made into a memorial to bomb Hargeisa, killing an estimated 40,000 people and forcing 400,000 to flee.

"We can never stand again to reunite with the rest of Somalia. We can stand no more destruction," said bus driver Ahmed Hassan, echoing the views of most people in this northern region.

In the years that followed Gen. Siad Barre's ouster in January 1991, Somaliland has pursued its own path in relative peace and prosperity, while much of the rest of the Horn of Africa country has been ravaged by clan-based fighting and banditry.

Despite its 1988 war scars and more fighting in 1992 and 1994 through 1996, Hargeisa boasts Somalia's only working traffic lights and has a semblance of normalcy absent in much of the country.

Other Somali towns are filled with young gunmen huddling in the shade or zooming around on the back of pickup trucks, but Hargeisa's bustling streets are empty of militiamen and bandits.

Residents attribute the stability to the leadership of the late Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, Somaliland's head of state until his death six days ago, who declared the region independent shortly after Gen. Siad Barre's ouster.

When the anti-Siad Barre faction leaders in southern Somalia fell to fighting among themselves, Mr. Egal stayed out of the war, set up his own administration and created a police force.

The region's borders are based on colonial maps. Dominated by the Issak clan, Somaliland was a British protectorate that united with Italian Somaliland in 1960 to form Somalia.

International recognition has never come, but most people in Somaliland are convinced that reunification with the rest of Somalia would bring clan-based fighting.

"We just want to live in peace, and we are worried that reintegration with the south might bring us instability," said Ahmed Ilyas, a businessman.

Last May, 97 percent of the 1.2 million voters in a referendum opted for Somaliland to stay separate from the rest of the troubled country, officials said.

The vote was a rebuff to a transitional Somali government led by Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, elected at an internationally sponsored peace conference in neighboring Djibouti in August 2000.

Mr. Egal shunned the conference and refused to recognize Mr. Hassan's administration, which has little influence outside Mogadishu.

"I believe southern Somalia should sort out its problems first, then the two sides south and north can sit together to discuss the future of Somalia," said Ahmed Mohammed Silanyo, a veteran Somaliland politician.

Despite Somaliland's success, analysts say the region is not so different from the rest of Somalia. It too is ruled by an old political elite backed by a business cartel, creating riches that benefit a few.

While Mr. Egal's administration finances the security forces, Somaliland depends on aid agencies for development and rehabilitation programs. Many people in Hargeisa are unemployed. Others survive by trading in khat, a seminarcotic leaf chewed as a stimulant.

"In the end, Somalia will be reunited, but under a sort of federal system," predicted Farah Abdi, an intellectual in Hargeisa. "The secessionism cannot work. It has been 10 years, and we still have no international recognition."

Others say Somaliland's leaders have been using the ghosts of Somaliland's past to scare people into supporting independence.

The memorial of the fighter jet "is just a way of hammering the minds of the Hargeisa people with the idea of telling people that their enemy is in Mogadishu," said Ali Mohammed, another intellectual.

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