(Corrects region in second paragraph to Cayn from Cyan)
By Mark Anderson
HARGEISA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - 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)