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Somaliland’s leader makes pitch for autonomy in Washington

KAMPALA, Uganda ( Associated Press) — The leader of Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Somaliland has urged the international community to recognize his territory’s quest for independence, saying negotiations with Somalia had failed.

Muse Bihi Abdi charged that in a decade of talks “Somalia has demonstrated a complete lack of interest in meaningful dialogue,” forcing Somaliland to press ahead with its quest for international recognition as an independent country.

“Dialogue has failed to achieve its objectives,” he said on Monday in Washington at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative policy think tank.

Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, said he believes the “US and Somaliland should be strong partners.” In a region beset by violence and the threat of extremists, a relatively calm Somaliland offers the US the possibility of “a truly sustainable partnership” in the Horn of Africa, Roberts said.

“This territory, of its own accord, has stuck with a democratic system and process for three decades. It hasn’t been perfect, just like no democratic system is perfect,” he said. “But the old saying is that character is how you behave when no one is watching. Somaliland has stayed faithful to democracy when hardly anyone is noticing.”

Abdi, who has been Somaliland’s president since 2017, said he was “pursuing all available avenues” in asserting his territory’s autonomy from Somalia.

“The international community has a moral obligation to support Somaliland’s pursuit of international recognition,” he said.

Somaliland has no formal diplomatic relations with the US, and Abdi said he wants to see the US joining some countries that maintain a diplomatic presence in Hargeisa, the capital.

Somaliland is strategically located by the Gulf of Aden, and Abdi spoke of recent efforts by his government to refurbish the port of Berbera in efforts to open up the region to global trade.

Somaliland’s territory of more than 3 million people broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country collapsed into warlord-led conflict.

Despite lacking international recognition, Somaliland has maintained its own independent government, currency and security system. The region has largely succeeded in holding regular elections over the years, including parliamentary polls held last year.

Somaliland’s relative stability over the years has sharpened the sense of failure in Somalia, where deadly attacks by Islamic extremists are frequently reported and elections have been delayed because there is no agreement on how the vote should be carried out.

Somalia still sees Somaliland as part of its territory.

It remains unclear how the Somali federal government will respond to Somaliland’s move to seek international recognition as an independent country. Since 2012 several rounds of talks over possible unification have failed to reach a breakthrough.

Abdi said in his speech Monday that the war in Ukraine brought back painful memories of deadly military conflict with Somalia.

“We feel the pain and anguish that the people of Ukraine feel because we went through the same experience,” he said.

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