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At least 24 dead in Somaliland fighting

Violence followed Las Anod clan elders declaring intention to cut ties with breakaway republic of Somaliland

Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland, sent forces into Las Anod after local clan elders announced their intention to cut ties with the breakaway republic and rejoin Somalia. [Twitter]

At least 24 people have been killed and 53 wounded amid heavy fighting in the Somali city of Las Anod, after local clan elders declared their intention to cut ties with the breakaway republic of Somaliland and rejoin Somalia.

In a second day of violence, local elders said on Tuesday that electricity and water in the city had been cut off, and a health centre had been attacked with mortars.

Somaliland forces were sent to Las Anod this week, having been forced to withdraw in early January after protests triggered by the assassination of a local opposition politician, Abdifatah Abdullahi Abdi.

“Somaliland forces are carrying out heavy attacks on medical facilities and civilian homes. The deaths and injuries of civilians cannot be counted,” Mukhtar Abdi, a resident of Las Anod, told Reuters.

The city is disputed between Somaliland and Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, but the local elders from the Dhulbahante clan have rejected both claims, declaring they intended to establish a new state within federal Somalia, and urging Somaliland’s forces to leave the region.

Somaliland accused Puntland, whose leaders have clan ties with Las Anod, of sending fighters to join militias battling Somaliland’s forces. Puntland has denied the allegations.

Somalia’s president Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud called for calm on Tuesday, urging Somaliland to negotiate with traditional elders from Las Anod. Somalia’s international partners echoed his call, issuing a statement expressing “grave concern” about the escalation and calling for the protection of civilians and the unimpeded access of humanitarian aid.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991 after a brutal civil war, drawing its border just over 100 km east of Las Anod.

Before that, however, Las Anod was part of Puntland, which is semi-autonomous but remains a part of Somalia. Las Anod and the inhabitants of its hinterlands belong to a collection of clans known as Harti-Darood that politically and economically dominate Puntland.

Las Anod, capital of the Sool region, was seized by Somaliland in 2007 after the withdrawal of forces from Puntland. But a string of high profile killings fuelled grievances against Somaliland’s presence.

Fighting in the city initially erupted in December, triggered by Abdi’s killing, which the Somaliland government in Hargeisa blamed on the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. No evidence was provided to substantiate the claim.

Local health officials put the casualty figures for these initial battles between 15 and 20 deaths. Hargeisa withdrew its forces from the city in early January, under pressure from the international community and the city’s residents.

Often thought an oasis in a turbulent region, Somaliland has successfully leveraged its relative stability to court western support. Between 2013 and 2020, the UK provided Hargeisa with security assistance within a counter-terror framework that included financial aid and training for Somaliland’s Rapid Reaction Unit (RRU). The UK also funded the construction of a police training academy in 2019.

British MPs have also warmed to Somaliland, attempting to arrange a debate on its recognition which was adjourned after Mogadishu raised objections. Former cabinet minister Gavin Williamson has been one of the most vocal advocates for Somaliland, becoming the first British minister to visit the country when he was defence secretary.

The US has also taken an interest in partnering with Somaliland, aiming to set up a military hub in the northern port city of Berbera even as it formally maintains a “one Somalia policy”.


(c) 2023, The Guardian



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