Somaliland leader in Turkey for talks

March 12, 2013, Tuesday/ 16:20:00

Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo, president of Somalia's autonomous Somaliland region, paid a visit to Ankara on Tuesday for talks with Turkish officials.

Silanyo had talks with Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ and officials from the Ministry of Energy. He was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday; however, the meeting had to be canceled due to Erdoğan's ill health. Erdoğan has caught a cold and will rest at home for a couple of days, according to reports. Today's Zaman was unable to confirm with the Prime Ministry whether the meeting between Erdoğan and Silanyo will take place at a later date.

Somaliland unilaterally declared its independence as a de facto sovereign state in 1991 but is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia, after a coalition of clan-based armed opposition groups ousted the nation's long-standing military government.

From time to time, there are also reports published by media claiming that the Somaliland leadership supports al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terrorist splinter group of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, and has links with the assassinations, abductions and bombings that have taken place in the country.

In a 2011 interview with BBC news, Silanyo said he hopes for independence and that Somaliland deserved to be seen as an independent country. “The people of Somaliland cannot be denied the chance of their own referendum to vote for secession,” said Silanyo.

A senior Turkish diplomat, who spoke to Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity, however, stated that it would be wrong to qualify Somaliland as a separatist region. “Within Somalia there are several regions, including Somaliland, that have their own administrative structure and a president. It is claimed that Somaliland is as separatist region; however, it would be wrong to qualify it as such,” said the diplomat.

The diplomat maintained that Turkey is against the division of Somalia, adding that Turkey will never support a group that poses a threat to the territorial integrity of Somalia. "In order to protect the territorial integrity of the country, we are in contact with all the sides in Somalia. Due to the instability, which is caused by terrorism and poverty, in the country, there are many groups calling for division. Somaliland is the only region which has been able to free itself from the effects of instability,” said the diplomat, adding that when stability can be maintained in the country, the separatist groups will give up the idea of division.

An Ankara-based Somali diplomat, who also spoke to Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity, stated that the visit was taking place to discuss issues of development in Somalia rather than political issues. "We have no problem with this visit. We have been aware of the demands of Somaliland since 1991 but we are against the division of the country," said the diplomat.

Somalia has suffered from civil war and religious extremism due to the political vacuum in the country since 1991. When asked whether the Somali government is uncomfortable about the visit, the same diplomat replied that this was out of the question, adding that the visit is taking place with the knowledge of the Somali state.

"Turkey will never support a group that poses a threat to the territorial integrity of Somalia. There is nothing to make the Somali state uncomfortable,” said the diplomat, adding that Turkey has made important contributions to the improvement of the situation in the country.

In 2011 a drought in Somalia killed 29,000 children under the age of 5 and left 12 million people on the brink of starvation. In Somalia, the drought has added to already present troubles resulting from the 20-year-long civil war in the country. The United Nations said Somalia's drought was one of the largest humanitarian crises in decades. Turkey initiated a countrywide aid campaign to help Somalia after the drought.

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