January 04, 2007

"Ethio-Somalia Federation"?

Somalia Minister proposes Ethio-Somali federation

afrol News / Awdal News Network, 4 January - A former warlord and key Minister of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government has called for the elimination of the international border between Somalia and Ethiopia and the unification of the two countries' currency and passports. The call has caused outrage among Somalis.

Hussein Aideed, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, made the remarks while briefing elders on the transitional government's future plans.

Somalia's local press quoted Minister Aideed as saying: "The two countries are brothers and share a similar political agenda," noting that Ethiopia was the only country that willingly stepped in to combat "terrorists" in Somalia, a direct reference to the Islamist movement that was recently routed from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

He pointed out that more than 2 million Somali refugees currently reside in Ethiopia and that the Ethiopian government has always provided them humanitarian assistance under the principles of brotherhood.

Mr Aideed also said the two countries would join their military forces into one and unite their economic efforts for further development.

Reports say that the elders who attended the meeting were appalled with the idea. Ethiopia traditionally has been seen as Somalia's historic enemy, as a large part of the lands inhabited by Somalis is part of Ethiopia and the two countries have fought several bitter wars. Even the decision by the transitional government to seek help from Ethiopia to oust the Islamists has been very controversial.

The federation proposals made by Mr Aideed thus have deepened the mistrust of the Ethiopian troops still present in Somalia. Already, some of the of the deposed Islamist leaders have blasted Mr Aided for calling the Somali people to accept that Somalia and Ethiopia should be combined as one nation and be united with one passport.

"I heard the news that Aideed said Somalia and Ethiopia should be one country. That is irresponsibility of him and his remarks disappoint many Somali citizens," Abdirahman Ali Muday said talking to Mogadishu-based 'Shabelle Radio'. "We will keep fighting until all Ethiopian troops leave our country," he added, hoping to raise public support.

Reactions of shock also dominate the many Somali discussion forums, with no support found for Mr Aideed's alleged proposals. The interim Minister is generally portrayed as a traitor in these forums, also by Somalis favouring the transitional government. Some speculate that President Yusuf now will be obliged to sack his Minister over these statements.

So far, however, other Somali government officials have neither dismissed nor criticised Mr Aideed's alleged statements. Both Somali and Ethiopian officials insist that Ethiopian troops are preparing a rapid troop withdrawal from Somalia, anticipating the take-over from African peacekeeping troops.

Somalia's interim Foreign Minister, Ismael Mohamud Hurreh, preferred to thank Ethiopians in a statement. "People talk about Somalia, but when it comes to delivering assistance, it is a lot of talk and no help," he said, somewhat in line with Mr Aideed's statement. But Mr Hurreh also called for international assistance "to bring about law and order, stability and peace" in Somalia when the Ethiopians leave.

Following criticism from a Somali government spokesman - who said Mr Aideed's proposals had only represented his "personal opinion" - the interim Interior Minister this afternoon backtracked on his controversial comments. He now doesn't want to "eliminate the border" between the two countries, but still holds that a common Ethio-Somali passport - based on the European Union model - would be a good idea.

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