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Somalia: Interview with TNG Foreign Minister Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim

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ADDIS ABABA, 6 February (IRIN) - Interview with Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim, foreign minister of the Transitional National Government (TNG) in Somalia. During the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, he spoke to IRIN about Somalia's relations with Ethiopia, the Eldoret peace talks and what the future holds for the war-ravaged country.
QUESTION: Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi met the TNG president at the airport before the summit. Does this signify a warming of relations?

ANSWER: You can interpret that in two ways. One is because as head of state of Somalia, [President] Abdiqassim is coming to this summit and the tradition is the host country should meet officially all the heads of states who are attending the conference. That is one dimension. The other dimension, since the official relationship between the TNG and Ethiopia is not perfect, then maybe it is also meant that the Ethiopian government is showing its good intentions to the
Somali government.

Q: What do you see as the imperfections in the relationship between the TNG and the Ethiopians?

A: I think there has been for some time now, not since the beginning of the TNG time but sometime later, a misunderstanding between the TNG and the Ethiopian government, and that misunderstanding is based on the position of Ethiopia that they don't recognise the TNG. In the initial process of Arta they were part of that, and a member of IGAD [Inter-Governmental Authority on Development], and they participated in the conference. So in the beginning they got involved, and then later on with the result of the government and the election of the parliament and the president and the prime minister, somehow the Ethiopian government didn't approve of the TNG. Maybe it is something to do with the Ethiopian relationship with certain parts of Somalia - Somaliland, Puntland, other warlords which are not part of the TNG. So maybe for these two reasons the Ethiopian government was reserved in its dealing with the TNG. But we are both members in IGAD, so from time to time we meet with them in that practical way. But the question of recognition is the obstacle, I think, of why Ethiopia is not so positive.

Q: Are we moving towards recognition?

A: I think it is premature because Ethiopia and other members of the frontline countries [Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia] are working on the success of this reconciliation conference [Eldoret peace talks] and also I think that Ethiopia would like to recognise the outcome of that conference, the government which is established. They might decide to recognise before that, but personally I believe that what they want to see is this conference, if it succeeds, then the result of that conference will be recognised.

Q: Will the conference succeed?

A: There are a lot of problems in the conference now. One of the problems is the condemnation of certain factions and other factions, which, after they have signed the agreement of the cessation of hostilities, have violated that agreement. So now we, the TNG, see the statement that the frontline [countries] issued condemning this violation ... as a good development. Then we have the communiqué that the three countries have issued which indicates how they want to revitalise the conference, by first of all changing the venue nearer to Nairobi and by appointing a new envoy, a Kenyan chairman. If they succeed then it will be fine but if they face new problems and violations or lack of agreement, then we may have a problem.

Q: When are we likely to see peace in Somalia?

A: There are tremendous difficulties facing Somalia - difficulties and lack of understanding between the various important groups of the Somali political forces. [These include]the issue of Somaliland that has completely disassociated itself from the rest of Somalia, Puntland which is also undergoing another trauma of confrontations - and other factions, the spread of weapons, militia, armaments. All these are tremendous, formidable difficulties. But I think there is a reality now, maturity among the important parties, factions and the government that there is no other solution. Otherwise if this conference doesn't succeed and there is no other alternative, then Somalia will be doomed. So nobody wants to see that. So I think either there will be cooperation inside the conference or maybe, alternatively there will be other arrangements where the Somalis will agree on certain things.

Q: So you think the Eldoret peace talks may not be the final talks?

A: From our point of view we will look at all the possibilities because we think this is a positive thing at least that we now have. Except Somaliland, all the other parties are there. There are no preconditions ... and Somali processes usually take time. Maybe the difficulties we see now, with time, with months, we can overcome, and then we can have an agreement. I think because of the maturity and being together in one place the alternative is bad - the collapse of the conference is bad for everybody, the TNG, the rest of the factions because we need legitimacy now, we need peace. We need understanding and joining a broad-based government. We need the support of the international community. At least this is the best chance that we have and we have to stick to it. But you cannot guarantee that everything will be fine.

Q: Could there be a scenario where Somaliland gains recognition or would that not be acceptable?

A: Somaliland has been trying to seek recognition with the international community for its secession but so far, the international community has been reluctant to recognise - unless the process of reconciliation fails. But even then I think it will be very difficult because if you recognise one part of the secession of Somalia, you usher in disintegration, because there will be others seeking secession and the international community will face a very difficult situation if they open that door. So I think the international community and the leadership in Somalia - when there will be elections and a reasonable leadership may appear from that - then they have to thank us because there can be a form where they maintain their independence, their internal arrangements, at the same time have some association with Somalia. That is the best way to solve the problem of Somalia.

Q: What was the AU's assessment at the summit of Somalia?

A: The central organ supported the view of the chairperson of the commission, Amara Essy, who presented a report. His assessment was that we have to focus on the success of the Eldoret conference and help that process, the emergence of that.

Q: What do you say to critics who accuse the TNG of harbouring terrorists like Al Ittihad?

A: These are baseless allegations. You may have individual Somalis but inside the country there are no bases for Al Qaeda organisations. Al Qaeda itself has only been heard after September 11th, so therefore we had cooperation with the United Nations and United States and allies to see, to explore and survey the whole country and there were no bases or anywhere where these Al Qaeda seek refuge. So what people are concerned for now is to make security arrangements, not to allow infiltration. But for this you need united responsible government, for you always run the risk that maybe some of these groups are somewhere - but so far we don't have that.

[ENDS]

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