Letter: Britain and the world should come to Somalia's aid

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Sir: The coverage the Independent has given to the troubles in Somalia over the past few days has been very welcome, especially since the the situation there seems to have been overlooked for so long. You referred today to 'the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland' being in control of the north of Somalia, but in common with the rest of the press, Somalia is treated as one entity, which is no longer the case.

All coverage has concentrated on the south, which is understandable given the highly visible suffering in Mogadishu, but it does lead to Somalis in Britain expressing bewilderment at the way the north has been ignored for so long. With many British Somalis living in my constituency, I do not share the Eurocentrism to which you referred in Saturday's editorial.

The Republic of Somaliland does have close links with Britain: most British Somalis come from there and family links remain strong. Between 1887 and 1964 it was the British Protectorate of Somaliland, and provided much- needed help to Britain at sea and in the army during two world wars and even more recently. Somaliland suffered the 'hidden war' when savage attacks by the forces of President Siad Barre and repeated violation of human rights sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to the misery of the refugee camps in Ethiopia to avoid death. Now, while hardly peaceful, the situation there is far more settled than is the case in the rest of Somalia.

The tragedy is that Britain and the rest of the international community have left Somaliland in a Catch-22 situation: development aid is refused until there is effective government and until there is development aid there is no way effective administration can be created out of the ruins.

In recent days, a window of opportunity has opened with agreement being reached to widen the provisional government in Somaliland to include the main opposition group and create a sense of unity. Cash provided now could help that administration to become established and lead to the creation of permanent and democratic government. Not to provide help now risks fresh disorder and fragmentation.

For the other three regions of the former Somalia Republic, the best hope seems to be for the international community to unite behind General Aideed and those who want to bring back order and peace to that sad country.

Britain shares that international responsibility, or 'great duty' as you put it, but surely Britain also has a particular responsibility to ensure that the window of opportunity in the north is not missed, and that the Republic of Somaliland receives specific aid to build on the glimmers of hope that exist.

Yours faithfully,


MP for Cardiff South and

Penarth (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

10 August

The writer is Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Somalia.