(Corrects region in second paragraph to Cayn from Cyan)
By Mark Anderson
HARGEISA Feb 9 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 Cayn 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 relative stability
compared to the rest of the Horn of Africa country and
international mining and oil exploration firms are prospecting
in the region.
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)