- Abdullahi Yusuf has been elected the new President of Somalia by the warlords' parliament in Kenya. President Yusuf, himself a warlord and leader of the autonomous Puntland region, was hailed by the Somali MPs but described as a "war criminal" and "dictator" by others. Somaliland fears renewed tension after Mr Yusuf's election.
Somalia's MPs, still united in Nairobi, yesterday elected the country's first President since the 1991 ousting of military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. From 26 presidential candidates, the Puntland strongman after several hours emerged as the man able to gather a majority support from the 275 MPs.
The 69-year-old was given 189 votes at the Nairobi election. Somalia's President-elect used his first speech to appeal for more international aid "to reconcile Somalis to bring back peace and security and revive the country."
Mr Yusuf is expected to head a transitional federal government as soon as he and the parliament have returned to Mogadishu. Their main challenges will be the reestablishment of peace, security and nation-wide institutions. The new government, which will take up Somalia's empty seat in the UN, has five years to write a new constitution and prepare for elections, according to the current peace and reconciliation plan.
The new Somali President has been a key player in Somalia for over a decade. He participated in ousting Dictator Barre in 1991. Based in Ethiopia and receiving Ethiopian aid, Mr Yusuf already in the 1980s formed one of Somalia's first armed factions, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front. Since that, Mr Yusuf has been one of Somalia's most influential warlords.
In 1998, Mr Yusuf participated in the creation of the Puntland proto-state in north-eastern Somalia. The government set up in Bossaso assured relative peace and stability in the large territory it controlled, but pledged to reunite with Somalia when peace had come.
While being Puntland's military President, Mr Yusuf however earned a reputation of not respecting democratic ground rules. His Puntland administration is accused of poor transparency and embezzling public funds while the population currently is suffering from the worst regional drought in decades. Political conflicts in Puntland were regularly solved by turning to arms.
Mr Yusuf's Puntland is also the only Somali authority that seriously has threatened the neighbouring self-declared republic of Somaliland, a former British colony that has been independent and peaceful since 1991 but yet has to be recognised by the international community. Puntland troops are occupying a small part of eastern Somaliland; as defined by the border between former British Somaliland and Italian Somalia.
In the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, the election of Mr Yusuf as Somalia's new President therefore has come as a bad omen. Here, Mr Yusuf is denounced as a war criminal and dictator aiming at destabilising Somaliland. It is feared that President Yusuf's Somalia now will make even greater efforts to destabilise Somaliland by military operations.
Somaliland authorities so far have chosen to keep a low profile in the military conflict with Puntland, even allowing Puntland troops to maintain control of some of the villages claimed by the two parties. While Hargeisa claims to have enough troops and resources to oust President Yusuf's militia, authorities say maintaining peace and stability currently is more important. This may however change if Mr Yusuf's men are to become the Somali army.
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