Some 24 people have been killed and 53 wounded amid heavy fighting in the Somali city of Las Anod. This follows a declaration by local clan elders that their intention is to cut ties with the breakaway republic of Somaliland and rejoin Somalia.
In the second day of violence, local elders revealed that electricity and water in the city had been cut off, and a health centre had been attacked with mortars.
This week, Somaliland forces were sent to Las Anod having been forced to withdraw in early January after protests sparked 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, an ex-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 captured by Somaliland in 2007 after the withdrawal of forces from Puntland. However, a string of high profile killings fuelled grievances against Somaliland’s presence.
Fighting in the city initially erupted in December, sparked 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.