Somaliland and Puntland, once-warring territories in northern Somalia, have unprecedentedly agreed in principle to work together to tackle common security threats.
Troops from both entities have clashed over disputed borderlands in the past. They also differ over the issue of sovereignty: Somaliland unilaterally declared independence in 1991, and Puntland, while asserting a degree of autonomy, recognizes Mogadishu as its own, and Somaliland’s, capital.
"You can't choose your neighbours, whether it is a region or state; for this reason, from now on, we are going to work with the Puntland state of Somalia, in terms of security of the [Horn of Africa] region,” Somaliland’s Interior Minister, Mohamed Abdi Gabose, said on 26 September in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa.
"Of course this does not mean we unite with Puntland or the other conflicted areas. We will discuss the [security] issues later," he said.
“From now on, we [Somaliland] want to work together on security matters because it seems there are anti-peace groups who want to threaten our peace,” he said.
The rapprochement follows renewed clashes in July in Galgala, an area on the Puntland side of the border, between Puntland’s security forces and troops loyal to Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom, a leader of an insurgency accused of having links to Al-Shabab, the main Islamist group fighting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Atom and Al-Shabab have both denied such links exist.
"Of course the [Somaliland] government has its worries when it comes to the Galgala war because if these groups win or fail, either way it is not good for Somaliland because if they win they may try to enlarge their presence deeper in Somaliland," said Gabose.
Hargeisa is faced with another security concern – an armed group claiming to be fighting to liberate – and which is named after - the Somaliland border regions Sool, Sanag and Cayn. The group rejects the legitimacy of Somaliland’s government and sovereignty and says it has set up its own administration.
Puntland Information Minister Abdihakim Ahmed Guled said of Gabose’s statements: “We welcome the openness of the new government in Somaliland and its aim to solve the problems in peace and negotiations.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
|Puntland and Somaliland have agreed to work together to tackle common security threats|
“On our side, we are happy to hear that the Somaliland government is ready to work with us on security matters because at this time, there are new groups in the region who are killing Muslim people in mosques. These groups have in the past carried out suicide attacks in Hargeisa as well as in Puntland's port of Bosasso."
Meanwhile, there have been international moves to increase engagement with both Somaliland and Puntland, most notably by the United States, which plans to send more diplomats and aid workers there.
“We think that both of these parts of Somalia have been zones of relative political and civil stability, and we think they will, in fact, be a bulwark against extremism and radicalism that might emerge from the south,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson said on 24 September.
The US has stressed, however, that this initiative does not mark the beginning of a process to recognize Somaliland’s independence.
Commenting on the US move, Sally Healy, an associate fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, told IRIN: “Both territories are quite effectively administered by authorities that are hostile to Al-Shabab and the spread of extremism in Somalia. Their strategic position is important in terms of the security threats emanating from the Gulf of Aden.
“They have important and influential diaspora communities in the west. So it makes a lot of sense for the US to do business with them instead of putting all their eggs in the TFG basket, which remains extremely fragile.”