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Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

The President resigned on 28 December 2008 and a permanent successor has yet to be selected. The transitional federal Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia have agreed to form a unity Government. We hope these changes will help to promote the peace process.

We are all deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis, but piracy off the coast of Somalia is helping to pay for, and therefore perpetuate, the war in that country. What progress can the Minister report on minimising that source of instability?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to talk of the humanitarian crisis, which is indeed a tragedy in Somalia. I can assure the House that the UK has made progress by co-sponsoring UN Security Council resolutions 1816 and 1838, which called for measures to combat piracy off the coast. We are working on military options through the EU and NATO, and we are specifically working on what our naval contribution can be. The EU has a naval counter-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia, and the UK is providing the commander and the operation at HQ. Tomorrow, in New York, a new international contact group will meet to discuss international efforts in this regard.

While there is chaos in Somalia, will my hon. Friend recognise that to the north of that country, there is a small and young democracy called Somaliland? It is struggling against appalling and great odds, but doing so very well, to bring stability to that part of the world. However, it is not recognised by the international community and has received very little international help. Will she start to work with other members of the EU, with the United States and with members of the African Union to see how we can get recognition for Somaliland? Will she accept that Mogadishu is de facto not the Government there, and that it should not be the Government de jure either?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we do not currently recognise Somaliland as an independent state, and neither does the rest of the international community. The UK has signed up to a common EU position and to many UN Security Council presidential statements that refer to the territorial integrity and unity of Somalia. Nevertheless, I assure my hon. Friend that the UK is well aware of the position of the authorities and the people who live there, and of the opinion within Somaliland which itself is very divided.

By every criterion, Somalia is a failed state. There are horrendous activities by different groups of armed individuals, with an appalling impact on the local population. The Minister has said that hopefully the transitional federal Government will come up with an answer, but does she see the Islamists playing any part at all in that? Many people on the ground, particularly the non-governmental organisations, believe that the only way in which the Government can be got back on track to any degree is through some form of involvement by at least some of the Islamist parties.

The truth is that we are in the very early stages, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, and that our best hope of turning the country around is to create effective government and to improve security and humanitarian access. We work consistently on all those matters. It is true that we need a more inclusive Government, and we hope that there will be many opportunities for that through the unity Government. It is right that I welcome the engagement that has taken place with clan leaders and the business community, which had previously not happened. Inclusiveness will be the way forward.