Seven killed in clashes between pro-government Somali forces

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BOSASO, Somalia, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Fighting between elements of Somali pro-government forces killed at least seven people and injured 50 in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland on Tuesday, a doctor at a hospital that treated the casualties told Reuters.

It was the first reported deadly clash between forces loyal to Puntland's president and the U.S.-trained Puntland Security Forces (PSF), which both support Somali central government forces against al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents.

"At least seven people including (forces) from both sides and civilians died in the fighting," said Mohamed Ahmed, a doctor at the main hospital in the regional capital Bosaso. Both combatants and civilians were among the injured, Ahmed said.

A Puntland forces commander who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media confirmed the deaths, saying four were from his side, two were PSF fighters and the other a civilian.

Clashes between the two groups broke out early on Tuesday with each accusing the other of initiating the violence.

Fighting had stopped by late on Tuesday with the streets of Bosaso empty and businesses shuttered.

Tensions between the two have run high since last month when Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni fired PSF commander Mohamoud Osman Diyano. Deni won elections in January 2019, defeating Asad Osman Diyano, the brother of the PSF commander.

The PSF chief refused to vacate his post and ordered his forces from some frontline positions against al Shabaab.

"We are defending ourselves. We have fought for our country and we do not want to use our weapons against the misled forces," Diyano said of the clashes with the Puntland militia.

Fighting earlier this year between government troops and a formerly allied militia in the neighbouring state of Galmudug appeared to undermine the campaign against al Shabaab, analysts have said. Last week, al Shabaab captured towns there for the first time in a decade.

Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan, writing by Ayenat Mersie, editing by Mark Heinrich

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