'Defiant' Muse Bihi calls for recognition of Somaliland as sovereign state
Djibouti - The reconciliation talks between secessionist Somaliland and Somalia may face and early hitch if at all the speech of its leader Muse Bihi is anything to go by, despite concerted effort to reunite the two parties.
Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh and Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed had on Sunday convened dialogue meeting between Hargeisa and Mogadishu, which among others, is set to solve differences between the two regions, which have lasted for decades.
Even though Somaliland seceded from the rest of Somalia in 1991, the region is yet to get recognition from the international community, a move which has precipitated talks to end the quagmire, and Sunday's meeting was one of the many which have been done before.
But in his speech, Somaliland leader Muse Bihi outlined atrocities inflicted on the people of Somaliland, citing practical examples which he said justify calls for sovereignty. He delivered his speech in presence of dozens of delegates from both parties and mediators.
According to him, the union between Somalia and Somaliland has "malfunctioned", adding that the mutual trust that existed shortly after their respective independence, had since faded.
While Somaliland gained independence from the British on June 26th, 1960, Somalia also secured freedom from Italians barely four days later, the same year. The two sides, however, merged due to shared prosperity, but the union has been full of hiccups.
Somalia, Bihi noted, had oppressed the people of Somaliland, citing instances where thousands of people were murdered during the rogue regime of Siyad Barre, the Mogadishu leader who was overthrown in 1991.
"The legacy of oppression for the people of Somaliland cannot be easily swept away. Rather, they must be acknowledged and taken into account when considering Somaliland people's rights to self-determination and independence," he said in his long speech.
While appreciating the latest talks for dialogue, Bihi insisted that they must be anchored on a "state to state" basis for them to make any "substantive" meaning. Somalia has never recognized Somaliland's self-independence.
Further, he acknowledged the apologies that were delivered by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo in February, terming them "sincere". Farmajo had issued an apology after the two leaders met in a meeting brokered by Ethiopian PM Ahmed Abiy in February.
"Somaliland maintains that dialogue should be a two-state agenda that addresses co-issues of the dispute. We thank Somalia for their sincere apologies for atrocities committed in yesteryears," he continued in his speech.
But for the conflict to end, he said, all parties and international players must be ready to recognize the sovereignty of Somaliland, adding that it's the only possible way for Hargeisa to "forget" the past atrocities.
Sunday's efforts to reconcile both parties come amid increasing pressure from the international community especially the European Union and the US, who have been pushing for cooperation between the two parties.
"The act of recognizing and supporting the independence of Somaliland will go a long way to heal the wounds of the past and enable our two states to embrace each other in our independent but closely interwoven futures."
A communique issued by Djibouti noted that the two leaders had agreed to form a technical committee, which will operate from the country whenever meetings are held. Also, they agreed to depoliticize economic ventures.
"The two sides agreed not to politicize development and investment. The summit proposed Djibouti as the venue for the technical committee meetings," read the statement, which was released shortly after the meeting.
"It's paramount to note that the interest of the people remains the epicenter of the process. The summit asks the international partners to support the process."
Earlier, Djibouti pulled down the communique after "inadvertently" terming the negotiations as "talks between two countries", before changing it to reflect that Somaliland was not yet a recognized nation. Should it get acknowledged, Somaliland will become the 55th country in Africa.