Somaliland, which has been seeking recognition from the international community for its independent status from the rest of Somalia, is said to be increasing security ties with France and other western nations. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Associate Professor Iqbal Jhazbhay at the University of South Africa tells VOA that a French Special Forces operation in April that enabled France to take six captured Somali pirates back to Paris was partly accomplished with the help of Somaliland authorities.
"The French government decided to use the landing strip in Berbera to undertake such a mission, despite the fact that it has a military base in Djibouti," said Jhazbhay. "It was done with extreme sensitivity. It was just a few people who knew about it. I think the French were concerned that if they used Djibouti, there could have been a leak and the mission may have not worked."
Jhazbhay says he believes the French may have used the landing strip in Somaliland's main port city again Tuesday to transfer six more pirates to France. A Special Forces team captured the pirates after freeing a French couple seized earlier this month in their yacht off the coast of Somalia.
French military officials tell VOA that both missions were conducted from warships at sea and its military base in Djibouti.
Jhazbhay says top-level Somaliland ministers and security officials have told him that they are cooperating with France and other western countries on piracy and terrorism issues.
He says officials in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa are hoping that the strategy will lead to the recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign nation.
"Their ultimate goal is recognition. Somaliland government's agenda is to engage with France on the level of more security cooperation, given that France is the current chair of the European Union," added Jhazbhay.
Jhazbhay notes the strategy has already produced some positive results. Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin is in Europe this week for meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy's top Africa advisor in Paris and with officials in Germany and Britain.
The trip follows visits by French, British, and American diplomats in Hargeisa in recent weeks.
Jhazbhay says the West has also stepped up efforts to strengthen democracy in the breakaway republic and is seeking Somaliland's help in the global fight against terror.
"The European Union has formally taken a position and so has the United States to support Somaliland's democratic process. In this context, the International Republican Institute from Washington has opened an office in Hargeisa and the European Union has taken a formal decision to fund the registration process of voters in the upcoming presidential elections on March 29th, 2009," continued Jhazbhay. "The United States has on-going discussions with the Somaliland government at the level of the U.S. ambassador in Ethiopia and low-level officials visiting Hargeisa. There have been exchanges of intelligence on terrorism issues and how to better secure Somali coast."
Somaliland proclaimed independence from war-ravaged Somalia in 1991 after the fall of the last functioning government. Since then, it has made notable progress in establishing a constitutional democracy and maintaining peace within its borders. But no country has recognized Somaliland amid fears that doing so could lead to the fragmentation of Somalia and other African states.