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From Africa to West Papua, unrecognized nations push for self-determination
BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 16, 2008 - It has a functioning parliament, its own currency and a viable economy boosted by hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) from a diaspora — yet international recognition remains a dream for Somaliland.
Representatives from the breakaway, self-declared republic in northern Somalia and some 40 other regions from western Africa to eastern Asia met in the European Parliament Friday to push for their cause. Some are asking to be recognized as independent states, others simply wanting to raise awareness of their nation's or tribe's difficulties under a government which they say oppresses them.
"We hope recognition will come soon. We've done so much in the areas of reconstruction, expanding schools, water supplies. We have a military, a central bank, a coastal guard looking after our 900-kilometer (560-mile) coast," Mohamoud A. Daar, Somaliland's representative to the EU, said during the conference.
Organized by the Dutch-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, or UNPO, which lobbies with the U.N., European Union and other institutions on behalf of some 70 unrepresented regions across the world, the conference discussed the practical difficulties of de facto states. They include the inability to get a loan from an international institution, health problems because of denied access to the World Health Organization, or security issues at airports within unrecognized territories.
"UNPO convened this conference not to address whether or not these entities should be independent, which is a very complex and controversial matter, but to deal with the reality that these pockets of the world do exist and function, to varying degrees, as states," the organization said in a declaration.
Nathan Buck, a UNPO official, said some of the peoples' perceived right to independence "is obviously very subjective." But he said the organization represents regions based on transparent criteria such as nonviolence and respect for international human rights standards.
UNPO members have met at least once every 18 months since 1991, and Buck said securing visas and permits for the representatives to travel to Brussels has taken months — and dozens of people still have not made it.
Members from the separatist Georgian province of Abkhazia, which is supported by Russia and has been de-facto independent since a 1990s secessionist war, traveled to Moscow to get their visas.
Representatives from Nagaland state on India's eastern border with Myanmar, where the Naga people have been fighting for a half century to create a separate country, had to go to Bangkok, Thailand, rather than New Delhi, India, but did not receive their EU visas anyway, Buck said.
Daar, Somaliland's representative, illustrated some of the practical difficulties of living in a non-recognized state. The economy of the region in the Horn of Africa, which declared independence from war-torn Somalia in 1991, has been entirely homegrown because it cannot get any loans from institutions such as the World Bank. It makes money from livestock exports and has received hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) annually from people from Somaliland who are living abroad, Daar said.
Somaliland has signed an agreement on cooperation with neighboring Ethiopia, but business with other countries is on an ad-hoc basis.
Daar said he remains hopeful that the African Union, which sent a fact-finding team to Somaliland in 2005, would act on the mission's recommendation and recognize Somaliland as an independent country.
"We're more stable than many of the quasi states around us," Daar said.
Source: International Herald Tribune