Dozens killed in clashes between two Somali regions in land dispute

GAROWE, Somalia (Reuters) - Fighting between Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region and breakaway Somaliland has killed dozens of soldiers, according to a witness and a military commander who spoke of a “hellish” outbreak of violence.

The clashes on Thursday morning appeared to be a resumption of more than 10 years of periodic conflict between Puntland and Somaliland over the disputed Sool region.

“Somaliland attacked us and we had to attack Somalilandfrom other sides,” Abdifatah Saiid, a Puntland military commander, told Reuters late on Thursday.

“It was a hellish battle. We killed 30 soldiers from Somaliland ... and from our side we lost six soldiers.”

A local elder in the area said the fighting broke out on Thursday morning and he counted a total of about 40 dead soldiers on both sides, with residents fleeing the area.

Puntland said it had captured 11 wounded Somaliland soldiers, according to the military commander. “We shall continue fighting till we reach Las Anod town which is ours but illegally controlled by Somaliland,” he said.

Last week, clashes between the two sides over the ownership of Tukaraq village, seized by Somaliland last month, killed at least 45 people.

Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 and operates as an independent state but has not won international recognition.

It suggested Puntland was trying to exploit turmoil in the region caused by a tropical cyclone that led to more than 50 deaths, wiped out livestock and destroyed hundreds of farms as heavy rains and floods hit the Horn of Africa.

“Somaliland will not endure the constant aggression of Somalia’s federal forces at the border of the two countries,” Abdirahman Abdullahi Farah, Somaliland’s information minister said in the statement.

Puntland blamed Somaliland for the confrontation. “Puntland will defend its land and people,” a presidential statement said.

The U.N. Assistance Mission on Somalia and the country’s international partners, which include the United States and the European Union, called on both sides to halt the fighting.

Clashes only add to the suffering of people in the area as they deal with an already-difficult humanitarian situation aggravated by tropical cyclone Sagar, a statement by the U.N. mission said.

Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Writing by Omar Mohammed, William Maclean