By Robert Evans

Geneva - The foreign minister of the self-styled republic of Somaliland, which she called "a haven of peace" in conflict-torn Horn of Africa, on Wednesday appealed to the outside world to recognise its existence.

The territory on the Gulf of Aden declared independence from anarchic Somalia in 1991 and has since enjoyed relative peace.

"Somaliland is a miracle in Africa, an island of peace and stability in a region of wars and violence," said Edna Adan Ismail on a visit to the United Nations in Geneva.

"It is time for the rest of the world to reconsider its refusal to recognise us and what we have achieved."

The territory, with an estimated population of 3,5 to 4,5 million, won independence from Britain in 1960 and immediately joined up with neighbouring ex-Italian Somalia in the south and east to form a united republic.

But an uprising against then Somali military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in the 1980s was followed by years of devastation as he turned his forces against the northwestern enclave.

When Siad Barre fled the country in 1991, Somaliland split away. The rest of Somalia slid into lawlessness and clan-based factional conflict which is still continuing.

But in Somaliland, half of whose population is nomadic, a vibrant economy and an open political system have emerged in the last decade, capped by a multi-party presidential election last year, UN and European Union officials who know the area say.

"We have built our new society on the ruins that Siad Barre left to us, and we have done it without help from the outside," said Adan Ismail, formerly a senior official of the UN's World Health Organisation.

"We cannot understand why Eritrea is allowed to secede from Ethiopia and the union of Senegal and Gambia is allowed to break up, but we are told we must stay tied to a country that attacked us, and is now in chaos and anarchy," she said.

The African Union, like the old Organisation of African Unity, maintains that the countries of the continent must keep the boundaries they inherited from colonial days and declines to accept the Somaliland breakaway.

In deference to that stance, no other country has recognised the territory.

Somaliland's resettlement minister Abdilahi Hussein Iman told the news conference in Geneva the delegation of ministers, which also included the ministers of health and of planning, hoped to raise $64-million to help resettle thousands of returning refugees.

UN officials say many of the 300 000 who fled during Siad Barre's rule remain in neighbouring countries and will need support to resettle, involving funds the government in the capital, Hargeisa, can scarcely afford.