Families flee violence in Sool region

Scores of families have fled their homes following a clash between forces from the self-declared republic of Somaliland and the autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia.

"A heavy exchange of artillery took place around the village of Abeseoley [22 km north of the regional capital, Las Anod]," said Faisal Jama, a resident of Las Anod in the Sool region, to which both sides lay claim.

The 17 September clash resulted in the killing of two people along with their herd of goats, and caused families living near the front to flee. "People fled the village of Anjiid [16 km north of Las Anod] and moved to Las Anod," he said.

Jama said reports from the area indicated that the fighting was between Puntland and Somaliland forces. It was not immediately clear what triggered the fighting or what the casualty figures were.

Both sides accused each other of initiating the hostilities. Ahmed Aden Arab, the Puntland deputy minister for local government, said Somaliland forces started the shelling.

"They started it and we responded," he said.

However, Somaliland spokesman, Said Adani, termed the accusation baseless. "This is between clans," he said. "Somaliland forces have nothing to do with it."

The regions of Sool and Sanag, in northern Somalia, geographically fall within the borders of pre-independence British Somaliland, but most of the area's inhabitants, the Warsangeli and Dhulbahante communities, who are members of the larger Darod clan, are associated with residents of Puntland.

Tension between the two sides had been simmering since Puntland troops took total control of Las Anod in December 2003. Before then, both sides had official representation in the town.

The area was reported to be calm but tense on 18 September. "There is no shelling this morning but there is a lot of movement of forces in the area," Jama added.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA-Somalia) said the shelling lasted four hours in an area 22 km north of Las Anod.

Matthew Olins, the acting head of OCHA-Somalia, said: "We are very concerned
about anything that could possibly escalate tension between Puntland and Somaliland."

However, he added that he was hopeful that the tension would diminish.

Ah/jm