NAIROBI The president of Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region said the central government was undermining plans to create a federal system and that he would develop potential oil resources in his area even without a revenue-sharing deal with Mogadishu.
Abdirahman Mohamud Farole's remarks in a Reuters interview show the deep national divisions and the huge task facing the Mogadishu government as it seeks to unite the nation with devolved powers after two decades of war and clan rivalry.
Mogadishu has promised to share power and resources in the poor Horn of Africa state, but distrust of central government still threatens fragile security gains of the past two years, highlighted when Puntland broke off ties this month.
"Mogadishu has undermined the federal system," said Farole, 68, who spent four years in Australia in the 1990s and then secured the presidency of Puntland in northern Somalia in 2009.
"They want the highly centralised government of the (Mohamed) Siad Barre model, where Mogadishu is the centre," he said late on Wednesday, referring to the dictator toppled when war erupted in the early 1990s and splintered the nation into a patchwork of fiefdoms run by warlords and then Islamist militants.
The president of Puntland, which has managed to create a semblance of order in its territory, said it would assert autonomy by exploiting oil resources believed to lie within its borders.
Farole said the current constitution forbids Mogadishu from awarding oil contracts to foreign firms across the nation while it is still negotiating how future oil revenues will be shared with the regions.
Oil companies that did strike a deal with Mogadishu and tried to work in Puntland would be prevented, he said. "We will physically stop them," he said, without giving details.
SHARING THE PROCEEDS
However, Farole said Canadian explorer Africa Oil and Australian firm Range Resources would continue drilling for oil in Puntland during talks with Mogadishu, which he said could benefit from future proceeds.
"When we brought Africa Oil to Puntland, I publicly announced that this (oil) is not only for Puntland," said Farole, one of the early advocates for a federal Somali state.
Some diplomats say Farole's stance, including the decision to break ties with Mogadishu over accusations the government was failing to share power, is aimed at drumming up support before a regional election next year.
The central government insists it is committed to federalism but says it needs time because of years of chaos. Continued attacks by Islamist militants, notably in Mogadishu, still threaten a return to the disorder that shattered Somalia.
In a move diplomats said could help build devolved government, Mogadishu on Wednesday recognised a former Islamist commander as the interim leader of the southern Jubaland region and reached a deal over administration of a lucrative port.
But Farole dismissed the deal, saying he saw little sign of Mogadishu giving ground to allow the regions more autonomy.
"They want to create and did create a conflict in Jubaland to demonstrate to the outside world that this model doesn't work because the people will fight against each other," Farole said.
Puntland is due to hold a presidential election in January, but Farole said plans to let citizens vote directly had been blocked by former politicians with strong power bases.
In an effort to prevent bloodshed, Farole said he had agreed to repeat the old electoral process whereby members of parliament selected by their communities go on to elect a Puntland leader in a secret ballot, a process that mirrors how Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was picked in Mogadishu.
(Editing by Richard Lough and Dale Hudson)