Thursday, February 09, 2012

Secessionists Clashes Erupt in Somaliland

Somaliland clashes with secessionists

2:52pm EST
By Mark Anderson

HARGEISA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The breakaway territory of Somaliland is battling its own secessionists in a dispute that has raised tensions with neighbouring Puntland, in an area of Somalia usually more peaceful than the rest of the country.

The fighting first erupted in January after the leaders of the northern regions of Sool, Sanaag and Cyan decided to band together into a new state called Khaatumo and declared they wanted to be an independent region within Somalia.

Somaliland's troops have since clashed with militia fighters loyal to Khaatumo, with reports of dozens of casualties. Puntland's President Abdirahman Mohamud Farole stepped into the row on Wednesday, accusing Somaliland of creating chaos.

"It is unfortunate that Somaliland is sowing seeds of insecurity in the peaceful towns of Puntland at a time the world is solving the entire country's violence," he told reporters, calling for Somaliland to pull its troops back.

The newly declared Khaatumo state is near the border with Ethiopia and is a disputed area that Somaliland seized from Puntland in 2007, though relations between the two territories have improved since.

The chairman of Khaatumo's foreign relations forum, Osman Hassan, has said unless the dispute is resolved "it is bound to escalate into a wider regional conflagration as other clans related to one side or the other take sides".

Both Somaliland and Puntland have enjoyed relatively stability compared to the rest of the Horn of Africa country and international mining and oil exploration firms are prospecting in both regions.

The fighting also comes ahead of a conference in London on Feb. 23 bringing together heads of government and international organisations to discuss ways to end the instability in Somalia.

Somaliland is an internationally unrecognised state that declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

Fighting between Somaliland forces and Khaatumo fighters flared up again on Wednesday near the border town of Buhoodle, after a week-long stalemate, forcing thousands to flee.

"Somaliland's national army has repulsed the attack by the Khaatumo militia, which attacked them in the early hours of the morning (on Wednesday), after the arrival of reinforcements," Somaliland's Minister of Defence Ahmed Ali Adami told Reuters.

Adami said three government soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in Wednesday's fighting.

Mohamed Yousouf, a member of Khaatumo's new administration, told Reuters by phone from Buhoodle, they had lost six fighters and 11 were wounded. He said they had captured four Somaliland soldiers, while seven of their fighters had been seized.

"Somaliland and Puntland claim that the Khaatumo region is part of their territory, but we want to be an autonomous region that is part of the Federal Republic of Somalia," he said.

"We have had no communication with the government in Puntland at all," Yousouf said. (Additional reporting by Hussein Ali Noor in Hargeisa and Abdiqani Hassan in Bosasso; Editing by David Clarke)

SOMALIA: Fighting displaces thousands in Somaliland

HARGEISA/NAIROBI, 9 February 2012 (IRIN) - More than 1,000 families (about 6,000 people) have been displaced from the town of Buuhoodle and nearby villages in eastern Somaliland after heavy fighting on 8 February between the Somaliland Army and clan militias loyal to the newly created Khatumo State, locals told IRIN.

The area has been disputed, with both the self-declared republic of Somaliland in northwestern Somalia, and the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, claiming them.

Khatumo State was established on 12 January by clans from the area that want to remain part of the larger Somalia.

Abdi Farah Abdulle, an elder in Buuhoodle, told IRIN that people had been moving from the area for fear of being caught in the fighting since 26 January when the first clashes erupted. "But after yesterday's fighting, many families have left the town. This morning many more are leaving. I saw many families using whatever means they can to get out."

Abdulle said most of the displaced fled the nearby villages of Sooljooto, Maygagle and Shangale. Most of the displaced were living in the open with no proper shelter, he said.

He said the area had been suffering from severe water shortages before the clashes. "These families have gone to areas with few or no water points. One drum [200 litres] of water costs around 120,000 shillings [about US$4], an amount the vast majority cannot afford."

Abdulle said the movement of people was still ongoing, since the armed groups were still facing each other.

A local journalist told IRIN the fear in Buuhoodle and nearby villages was that fighting could resume any time.

He said many of those displaced were in areas difficult to access. "So far no aid has reached them and some are living in the open."

He said no fighting had taken place in Buuhoodle since 8 February but the frontlines were only 18km from the town.

Exact casualty figures were not available. "We have seen 10 dead and 20 injured but those are the ones who reached the town. We don’t know how many have died on the frontlines,” the journalist said.


Abdillahi Jama Geeljire, Somaliland's Minister of Fisheries and Ports, told IRIN that Somaliland forces had not initiated the clashes. "Our forces were attacked by a clan militia and had to defend themselves."

Geeljire said the Somaliland authorities would do whatever was necessary to end the conflict through dialogue. "We are offering them to discuss whatever grievances [they have] and cease their hostile activities."

He said Somaliland would do whatever was necessary to make sure "no more blood of our people [Buuhoodle residents] is spilled".

He did, however, warn that Somaliland would defend its territory. "Somaliland is capable of defending its territorial integrity and we will do so if forced."

He said the conflict had the potential to spread and destabilize the whole region - "something we don’t want to see but those who are behind these attacks must cease and desist".

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