- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

HARGEISA, Somalia (Agence France-Presse) The breakaway Republic of Somaliland, whose leader, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, died last week while undergoing medical treatment in South Africa, proclaimed its independence almost 11 years ago but has never been recognized by the international community.
A former British protectorate, it united with the Italian colony to the south in 1960 to form the independent Republic of Somalia. But it broke away from the rest of Somalia in June 1991, five months after the overthrow of Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre, who seized power in a 1969 coup.
The secession was engineered by the head of the Somali National Movement (SNM), Abdurahman Ahmed Ali Tour. The SNM, formed in 1981, was the first armed movement to oppose Gen. Siad Barre's dictatorship.
Somaliland today has been spared the strife that afflicts the rest of Somalia, where clan leaders are engaged in bloody power struggles.
More than 3,000 people gathered Monday in Berbera, a port town on the Gulf of Aden 96 miles northeast of Hargeisa, to bury Mr. Egal, 73, who died after bowel surgery at a military hospital in Pretoria. Mr. Egal, who came to power in 1993, was succeeded by his vice president, Dahir Riyale Kahin, who promised to bring international recognition and continued stability to the breakaway Horn of Africa country.
In an interview with AFP late Monday night, Mr. Kahin said that there would be no sudden moves, and that he would continue Mr. Egal's path. Gaining international recognition for Somaliland and ensuring its continued security will be his two main goals, he stressed.
Fears in the international community that Somaliland would fall into chaos after Mr. Egal's death had proved groundless, Mr. Kahin said. "In fact, we have shown that we have applied the peace and governance that [Mr. Egal] instituted," he said.
"Nothing bad happened in Somaliland after his death. I hope the international community will realize that we are not a fragile state," he said.
"We are a real state that [is ruled by] a constitution. Not many African countries can do what we have done. We ask for recognition from the international community for this."
Mr. Kahin also said Somaliland voters would go to the polls for municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections within eight months. "We will have municipal elections and then parliamentary or presidential elections I have not decided in which order these will be in the next eight months," he said.
He took the oath of office hours after the Mr. Egal's death and was unanimously endorsed Friday night at an emergency meeting of the councils of elders and ministers, as well as parliament.
A member of the Gardabusi clan predominant in western Somaliland, Mr. Kahin had been vice president since 1997, when Somaliland adopted a provisional constitution. He was a high-ranking military officer in Somalia's Siad Barre regime.
In conformity with his last wishes, the late leader was buried alongside his father, Haji Ibrahim Egal, a wealthy businessman. The official mourning period for Mr. Egal ends tomorrow.
At the burial, Sheik Mohammed Sheik Sufi, minister of religion in the breakaway republic, led a Muslim prayer service that was also attended by an Ethiopian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Tekeda Alemu.
"Mr. Egal, a great statesman, contributed to peace and stability in this subregion these last 11 years," Mr. Alemu said. "We are saddened by his passing, but we take consolation in the fact that what he has left behind is an institution that has the capacity to protect the peace and stability of Somaliland.
"That has enormous implications for the subregion and particularly for Ethiopia," Mr. Alemu said.
Berbera is a vital outlet to the sea for Ethiopia, landlocked since Eritrea declared independence in 1993. Port fees from Ethiopia are Somaliland's primary source of revenue. The port, however, is virtually abandoned after successive embargoes in February 1998 and September 2000 imposed by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf emirates on the import of live animals to prevent the spread of Rift Valley fever.
Somaliland's 1997 constitution was ratified by a referendum in May last year a vote in which the inhabitants implicitly ratified independence by more than 97 percent. But the republic, which has a government, police force, penal code, currency and customs agency, is not recognized by the international community and is ineligible for foreign aid.
Officially, the refusal to recognize Somaliland is rooted in the principle, espoused by the Organization of African Unity's charter, of the inviolability of colonial borders.
More pragmatically, "everybody is afraid of a proliferation of ministates that cannot sustain themselves and whose establishment could lead to a host of border disputes," said a Somalia expert based in Nairobi.
Somalia also comprises two other states: Puntland in the northeast, which declared itself autonomous in 1998, and the State of Southwest Somalia, declared in March this year by the Rahanwein Resistance Army.
Semidesert Somaliland borders Djibouti and Ethiopia, with a coastline on the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
The population of about 3 million, dominated by the Issak clan, lives mainly from commerce and agriculture. About 200,000 people live in the capital, Hargeisa.


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