Ramola Talwar Badam and Awad Mustafa - The National .
DUBAI // An historic meeting between the presidents of Somalia and Somaliland in Dubai today may be the first step towards ending years of bloodshed there.
The meeting, facilitated by the UAE, was the first in 21 years. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the president of Somalia's transitional federal government, and Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, the president of the Republic of Somaliland, signed a declaration that paves the way for future talks and cooperation between the nations.
"This is a breakthrough and we are happy that our brothers in the north want to speak and negotiate," said Mr Ahmed. "As you know, all Somalis come from the same ethnic background, speak the same language and practice the same religion. So we are looking for solutions that satisfy all the segments of Somalia. Such negotiations need time and we hope it will succeed."
Mr Silanyo, Somaliland's president, voiced similar optimism.
"This will help for peace in the region as a whole, it will help in the fight against piracy and terrorism," he said.
Somaliland, which seceded from Somalia in 1991, has never been recognised by the international community. Mr Silanyo said he hoped the Dubai meeting would be the first step toward such recognition.
"We do hope it will contribute to us being recognised by the international community as a separate entity. We want to work together and live together - each country on its own," said Mr Silanyo.
The UAE foreign policy stance - that regionally initiated dialogue helps resolve conflict - was highlighted in the meeting of the presidents today.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of a two-day global counter-piracy convention in Dubai.
"What we see today is one people, who communicated and negotiated for the benefit of their people," said Anwar Mohammad Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
"The UAE is very aware that you cannot overcome many years of pain overnight, therefore we are witnessing a historic moment where the two presidents meet and sign this agreement to negotiations."
The one-page declaration signed by both presidents is titled The Dubai Statement.
"Both parties agreed to the continuation of this dialogue and agreed to allow the two committees, formed by the presidents, to continue the talks to clarify the relationship between the two sides," the statement read.
The meeting today formally endorses initial talks between ministers on both sides last week in London.
Somalia has functioned without a strong central administration since the ouster of the dictator Siad Barre in 1991. The collapse of his dictatorship led to civil war and inter-clan conflict, which split the country into the regions of Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug.
Somaliland, the northwestern region of Somalia, declared independence in 1991 and - despite a lack of recognition by the international community - has its own democratically elected government.
With limited economic opportunities at home, piracy became a lucrative business. Somalis say the root of piracy was in the early 1990s when local fishermen fought with foreign trawlers involved in illegal fishing and dumping toxic waste off its coast.