June 21, 2012
An official two-day meeting between representatives from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Somaliland kicked off Wednesday (June 20th) in London, launching direct negotiations between the two parties for the first time in more than 20 years.
The highly anticipated meeting fulfils one of the agreements reached by the TFG and Somaliland at the International Conference on Somalia in February, and aims to begin a dialogue between the two parties to find solutions for long standing issues, including national unity and regional security.
The talks are spearheaded by two, five-member committees representing the TFG and Somaliland, which have been appointed by Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Somaliland's President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo.
Somalia's Minister of Interior and National Security Abdisamad Maalim Mohamud leads the TFG committee comprising Education Minister Ahmed Aydid Ibrahim, Ambassador to Djibouti Abdi Hussein Gulwade, and parliamentarians Hussein Hassan and Mohammed Hassan.
Somaliland's Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omar leads his committee comprising Deputy Speaker Bashe Mohamed Farah, Justice and Welfare Party Chairman Faisal Ali Warabe, Minister for the Presidency Hirsi Ali Haji Hassan, and Labour and Social Affairs Minister Mohamud Ahmed Barre.
International dignitaries are also attending the meeting, which is sponsored by the British government and the European Union.
If delegates are successful in this first phase, Ahmed and Silanyo are expected to meet later this month for a second round of meetings in the United Arab Emirates, according to the BBC Somali service.
Despite the significance of this meeting, which brings together the two parties for the first time since Somaliland seceded from Somalia in 1991, some analysts remain sceptical about its outcome.
Nasra Dhuuh Malin, a civil society activist in Mogadishu, said negotiations between the TFG and Somaliland will continue indefinitely unless both sides demonstrate flexibility.
So far, Somaliland has continued its official position to stay firm on its quest for independence and international recognition. Before departing to London, the foreign affairs minister told reporters his delegation would explain to their TFG counterparts the decision Somaliland reached in 1991 to secede from Somalia.
"We should maintain our dignity as an independent nation, deserving of international respect. Our sovereignty is non-negotiable," Omar said.
But Bihi Iman, a political analyst based in Hargeisa, said residents in Somaliland have not all reached consensus on this issue.
Although Somaliland conducted a referendum in 2001, with 97% of voters approving of secession, he said the vote was not representative of the population because fewer than one million participated out of 2.5 million eligible voters. Furthermore, the referendum was only limited to Somaliland residents, leaving other Somalis out of the process, he said.
Iman said in order to know what Somalis want, another more inclusive referendum should be conducted. "Right now, we cannot say we know the will of the people … we can only know if we ask them and they vote," he said.
He urged both parties to refrain from publicising their positions while talks are still in ongoing, and said there is still a chance some sort of agreement can be reached in this round of meetings.
"People are tired of the unstable situation they have had to endure for the last 21 years, something has to change," he said, adding that that is the one sentiment shared by all Somalis.
Mohamed Haruun Bihi, a member of Somaliland's Justice and Welfare opposition party, said that talks with the TFG raise morale in the hopes of resolving ongoing disputes.
Bihi told Sabahi that the idea of separating from Somalia did not come easily and that his compatriots want a fair and acceptable political solution. He said if they do not perceive the proposals of their southern brothers as fair, they will conduct a referendum to determine their future.
The TFG has consistently reiterated its intention to actively pursue negotiations with Somaliland and reinforce national unity, as it solves all outstanding issues.
Speaking to state-run Radio Mogadishu on June 11th, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said his government is fully prepared to negotiate and hoped a spirit of shared patriotism would help both parties reach consensus.
"Our people stand together in solidarity and are united in the face of our enemies to preserve our independence, pride and our thirst for peace and a prosperous life," he said.
Similarly, President Ahmed called on elders of Somali tribes to help preserve unity and stability in the country by advancing negotiations to reach an agreement that would satisfy Somaliland.
"I call on you to take part in the talks between us and our brothers from the Somaliland government so we can solve the problems … I would like you to focus your revered efforts to push them towards a comprehensive national unity so as to avoid the disintegration of the country," Ahmed told clan elders at a meeting earlier this month.
Somalia's clan elders have been central to the country's political process. They have been tasked to select delegates to Somalia's National Constituent Assembly, which will approve the newly drafted constitution. Elders will appoint members of parliament who will be selecting Somalia's next president, effectively ending the government's transitional period by the August 20th deadline.
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