Somalia: Interview - Puntland lacks capacity to prevent refugee exodus

By Guled Mohamed

MOGADISHU, May 25 (Reuters) - Somalia's state of Puntland on Friday said it cannot prevent thousands of refugees from trying to cross the shark-infested Gulf of Aden to Yemen on rickety boats -- an often deadly journey.

Speaking to Reuters by telephone from the coastal city of Bosasso, Puntland President Adde Muse said thousands of refugees from east Africa arrive in the port city daily in their quest to reach Yemen.

"The problem has overwhelmed us," Muse told Reuters in an interview. "We have told the world we have no capacity to prevent this problem. Nearly 2,000 people travel every day by road from Galkaayo to Bosasso."

Puntland, in the northeast of the Horn of Africa, remains part of Somalia but generally administers its own affairs through its own military and government institutions.

"We are not a government that has powers to patrol our land and seize the multitude of people fleeing. They have overpowered us. Thousands arrive in the city of Bosasso daily from Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia to take the risky journey."

Meanwhile, Muse denied that his troops on Thursday barred Egypt's envoy to Somalia, Said Mohamed Mirsi, from flying out of Bosasso. The envoy had arrived to negotiate the release of Egyptian fishermen arrested for fishing illegally in Somalia.

On Wednesday the Egyptian foreign ministry had said the envoy had helped secure the release of 68 Egyptian fishermen detained earlier this month for illegally fishing after negotiating a reduction in a fine imposed on them.

"I was with him the whole of last night. He signed the agreement on behalf of his government with Puntland. The money will be wired to a Puntland account," He said without giving details of the exact figure Egypt had agreed to pay as fine.

"He is an envoy. Nobody can detain him," He added. "Enemies of Puntland are spreading a rumour that he has been detained. It is not true. He wanted to leave yesterday but there was a delay with his flight."

However, Ismail Hussein, a waiter at the Panaroma hotel where Masri was believed to be staying said Puntland troops had prevented the envoy from leaving the coastal city, accusing him of failing to pay the fine.

"They are now moving him to another hotel," Hussein told Reuters. "The envoy was furious yesterday when the troops denied him to fly to Egypt. He was under house arrest since then but this morning some troops escorted him to shop around town."

Muse said his administration was ready to take part in a reconciliation conference expected to take place mid-June in Somalia's bullet-scared capital Mogadishu, now marginally under the control of President Abdullahi Yusuf's interim government.

Yusuf, a former warlord, was Puntland's president before he was elected as the country's president in October 2004 and Muse succeeded him in Puntland.

(Additional reporting by Abdiqani Hassan in Bosasso)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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