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Somaliland Residents Express High Hopes for Independence
Gathering of Somaliland's supporters
By Cathy Majtenyi
Hargeysa, Somaliland, 4 March 2008 - The people of the African republic of Somaliland voted in 1991 to become an independent nation. They argue that there are enough cultural, political and social differences between them and the people of Somalia to make Somaliland a separate country, as was the case briefly in 1960. But the world has not yet formally recognized an independent Somaliland, a cause dear to the hearts of its people. Cathy Majtenyi files this report for VOA on the push for international recognition.
In Somaliland's capital Hargeisa, people gather for a rally to reaffirm their independence from Somalia, a war-torn country they say they want no part of.
Somaliland sits along the coast of the Gulf of Aden in the northernmost part of what is internationally recognized as Somalia.
Somaliland declared independence in 1991. It has its own government, police force, army and other institutions.
But even Somalia does not recognize the independence that is dear to the hearts of Somalilanders like Abdi Barre Osman, who took part in the rally in Hargeisa. He says, "If you get recognition, maybe you can get your rights or you can get everything, but if you do not have any recognition, maybe you are like nothing. So we are requesting from the world community to recognize our country as soon as possible."
Somalilanders stress that their country is peaceful and orderly -- a fully functional state in sharp contrast to the chaotic warlord system and weak central government of Somalia.
"We are happy that we have rehabilitated thousands of militiamen, which was a hard job. They were taken to camps and retrained to become national military, police, and prison wardens," says, Vice President Ahmed Yusuf Yassin.
The British had a strong presence in Somaliland by the late 1800s, with Somaliland becoming a British protectorate, separate from Italian-ruled lands to the south.
Somaliland gained independence from Britain in 1960, but that lasted only a matter of days before it united with the Italian-run region as Somalia.
Edna Adan Ismail is a former Somaliland foreign minister and a strong advocate of international recognition. She says that because the British never settled in Somaliland and ran things at arm's length, Somalianders had more experience in conflict resolution than Italian-governed Somalis. "This strengthened the traditions, the cultural traditional links of the people, their agreements, their way of dealing with problems, of negotiations, of discussions, of clan consultations," she said.
Bitter memories of the war that started in the 1980s and lasted until 1991 deepens the division. Former Somali leader Siad Barre sent troops to crush the budding independence movement.
And the death and destruction left behind traumatized the people.
Many now see a brighter future, with hopes high for international recognition. Near the end of January, President Dahir Riyale returned to Somaliland after visiting the United States and Britain.
Yassin says he thinks it is only a matter of time before the United States and others recognize an independent Somaliland, "The world is not coming to us for nothing. They are coming to us for the resources available in our country. The world should be interested in us. Now the time is near when the world should come to Somaliland because of the Middle East crisis. Because of this crisis, fuel prices are going up. We are an alternative source of fuel."
Somalilanders say they will continue to develop their budding nation, relying on investments and remittances from their kin living abroad to do so.