Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Q & A with Somali Foreign Minister Muhammad Abdullahi Omar | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Q) How do you view the Somali government’s priorities?

A) Our priority is to rebuild the state institutions and restore our positive role in the Arab world and as a state with responsibilities in the African Horn.

Q) And what is your agenda to achieve this?

A) As a government, we have to achieve security and stability. We have a plan to impose order in the capital Mogadishu and the regions that suffered because of the war. And there are the two statelets -Somaliland and Puntland, both of which are enjoying a reasonable level of security and stability and we do not intend to interfere with them at the present stage. We shall work at consolidating peace and helping displaced people from the capital to return to their homes. We are talking here of about two million people who need help to return to their houses. And we have to build the administrative system of the state, including everything relating to state institutions, which have been destroyed and ruined during the years of the civil war. We have to announce to the world our agenda and programs.

Q) What about peace with the opposition?

A) Our doors are open for peace at all times and they will remain so. There is no minimum or maximum; we are a government of peace and dialogue and we are ready for talks with anyone without any preconditions.

Q) What about your mission as foreign minister?

A) My mission as foreign minister is to convince the world of the need to support these endeavors; without which this country will never have stability. We know that the world and especially those concerned about the region, have to intervene and the Arab world should help us in this.

Q) But there are some who doubt the legitimacy of your government.

A) No, this is no longer acceptable; we are a government with full legitimacy and the way the president, government and parliament came about is evidence that the Somali people are determined to put an end to their sufferings. The people are fed up with the situation and are looking for change. There is clear, popular support for our government and the rule of law should be respected.

Q) Nevertheless Arab diplomatic representation in Mogadishu is very limited?

A) Some states such as Sudan, Libya and Yemen do have ambassadors in Mogadishu. I have met with them and actually we carried out our obligations towards them within a week. The government has started to exercise its powers in Mogadishu despite all difficulties and all government members there are actually practicing their powers. The parliament also has been restored, and the President, Sheikh Sharif, was the first to return. The government is there in the capital and is actually exercising its powers. Thus, we have shown the people that we are with them in the capital, but as I said, the presence of the administration is fundamental for government work, and therefore building the state institutions is our primary mission.

Q) Do you think that the presence of Barack Obama at the helm of the US administration serves your outlook?

A) Obama represents the new generation, as we do, and this is very important. We are trying to convince the US administration to cooperate with us and I think the US, as a great power, is interested in Somalia in the same way as it is interested in the Arab world. I am not one of those who believe that the US is against the Somali people. No, I do not think they are.

Q) Are you talking of arrangements for an imminent visit to Washington by President Sheikh Sharif?

A) It is still too early to talk about a visit; may be sometime later. But I can tell you I have met with US and EU officials and I have no doubt about their real intentions.

Q) Did they give you any specific promises?

A) Yes they did and they said they will help the Somali government politically and financially. But I believe the major powers in the UN Security Council have to work in the same way as Ahmad Oueld-Abdallah, the UN special envoy for Somalia.

Q) Why is that?

A) Because he is a man of peace; he has been trying to achieve peace for the past two years, and now we have an opportunity to cooperate with him. He is playing an important role and thanks to his efforts, the Security Council and the EU are openly supporting Somalia.

Q) What about the relations between Somalia and Eritrea?

A) I believe the positions of the two countries in the past were influenced by the absence of government in Somalia; but that is past, we have a state and government now, although we have groups opposing the government. It should be remembered that the majority of the people have decided they do not want anymore war.

Q) Does Ethiopia fear the extremists?

A) We pose no threat to Ethiopia and we have no intention of threatening them. What threatens Ethiopia threatens us, whether we speak of extremists or anybody else. Therefore, everyone should know that the extremists are not issues of importance for anyone. Look for instance, how the issue of piracy was transformed into a regional and international crisis affecting the world economy. We are therefore prepared to cooperate with the international society. Piracy must stop, but this could not be achieved without security and stability in Somalia. This is also what we are telling the Ethiopians.

Q) Are you going to demand that Eritrea expel the Somali opposition?

A) Eritrea is a neighbor and a sister state and we have had long historical relations with each other. As such our relations are not new. We both have a fundamental things in common, regional stability and security, which have been suffering from war for half a century.

We are urging our Eritrean brothers to understand that we are in a new situation and that we want peace and security for the region. We are not interested in conflict or in extremists, inside or outside. Development should be our main concern instead of political and military confrontations. But there are international rules for understanding and cooperation and intervention in internal affairs is unacceptable. What I mean to say is that what happened in Somalia lately was a result of the absence of effective government, but there is no reason for anyone to say now that there is no government or legitimacy in Somalia.

Q) Does that mean you intend to talk to the coalition in Eritrea?

A) With regard to those present in Eritrea, our doors are open; we demand, and we are calling on them to live by international rules of non-intervention. If they have any problems with us then we have to sit and talk. It is wrong to look at Somalia as it was two years ago.

Q) Any messages you would like to send to Asmara [Eritrea]?

A) We are ready for discussions; if they have certain points of view we have to sit and discuss them face to face -not from a distance.

Q) But Eritrea does not recognize your government to begin with?

A) That is wrong; if they have any complaints our doors are open. I am saying this once again through you, hoping they would read it and respond positively. We are still at the negotiating table. We are prepared to discuss each and every issue, because peace is our aim.

Q) Do you think it would be possible to reconcile the opposition leader Sheikh Aweys with [President] Sheikh Sharif?

A) I am certain that the two men, who worked together in the past and understand each other, would have no difficulty talking to each other sometime in the future; otherwise they would not have worked together to serve the interests of the Somali people.

Q) I understand that you are trying to remove the names of ‘wanted’ people from terrorist lists.

A) Yes, there are people whose names appear on the ‘wanted’ lists of the US and the UN. This issue has been raised before and the government is taking a stand on it; we shall do whatever we can to help those people, including the opposition groups, provided there is peace and they join in the reconciliation process. Peace should come first and they should prove to the world that they are for peace. After that we move to remove their names from UN and US wanted lists.

Q) As the newest Arab foreign minister, what is your view of the current situation?

A) If you are referring to past differences, you have to remember that there are also differences among EU members. You only need to remember the two world wars to realize that no regional organization or group is without differences. Luckily, unlike Europe, the Arab League was not born out of bloody wars. It was born as a result of common will to support common interests. Therefore we should not exaggerate the differences between Arab states.