By: Allan Jacob
DUBAI – In a major boost to the peace process in the Horn of Africa, Somalia and Somaliland broke the ice at a landmark meeting after two decades of conflict on Thursday.
The presidents of the two governments were brought to the table for the first time by the UAE at the counter piracy conference, and talked as equals in a bid to bring stability and build trust in the region.
Both groups agreed to the continuation of the formal dialogue that began in London last week and two committees will continue the talks in ”order to clarify the relationship”, according a statement signed by the Somalia transitional government President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Somaliland’s President Ahmed Mahmoud Silanyo.
”The significant commitment reflects the UAE’s support to the current historic developments in Somalia. It also represents the confidence of the states of Somalia’s neighbourhood, and the international community, in the capacity to ensure that Somalia and its people are once again able to enjoy peace stability and prosperity,” said Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
He said the international community must ensure that peace returns to the region and Somalia is supported to develop the ”requisite capacity to enforce maritime safety and security within its territorial waters”. Somali ownership is essential for a long-term solution, he added.
”This is a big development to improve the welfare of the people in the region and to help our economies. It will also bring down crime and piracy,” said Sheikh Ahmed.”
Somaliland President Silanyo, however, said his region would remain independent and would help build neighbouring Somalia’s fledgling institutions after the transitional government’s tenure expires in August 20.
Ali Ahmed, adviser to Silanyo, said Somaliland’s police forces could help train forces in Somalia. ”The world community appears to be closer to accepting our status as an independent entity, with a robust political process which has brought peace to the region,” he said.
The agreement signed today is not about unity. It is to fight piracy and terrorism and to solve economic problems in a safe neighbourhood, Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Dr Mohammed Abdullah Omar told Khaleej Times.
Somaliland is a relatively quiet part of the country which holds regular elections and transfers of power have peaceful. Somalia, on the other hand, has been torn by civil strife and is beset with a host of economic and political problems since 1991 when the last dictator Siad Barre was shown the door.
The government in Mogadishu has maintained its demand for a unified Somalia with Somaliland in the north-west. The first high-level official talks were held in London last week and paved the way for a meeting of the two presidents in Dubai on Thursday.
”This was a good opportunity to understand our differences and was held in a cordial atmosphere, with help from the UAE which brought us together,” said Ali Ahmed.