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SOMALIA: Thousands flee homes in disputed region fearing renewed clashes

NAIROBI, 22 October 2007 (IRIN) - Increased tension between the self-declared republic of Somaliland and the neighbouring self-declared autonomous region of Puntland over the disputed region of Sool has led to the displacement of up to 20,000 people from the area, local sources told IRIN on 22 October.

Forces loyal to the Somaliland administration took control of the Sool regional capital Las Anod, which was previously controlled by Puntland, on 15 October.

"There are demonstrations against the arrival of Somaliland forces and large numbers of people have been leaving the town," a local journalist said. "Most of them have gone to neighbouring towns and villages for safety reasons."

A report issued on 19 October by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Somalia, said an estimated 500 families had fled Las Anod, mostly to the neighbouring southeastern district Ba’ome.

Others had fled to Garowe, nearby villages and to northeastern districts such as Hudun and Taleh. "The population is said to be in dire need of food, shelter material and medical assistance," the report said.

Abdirahman Mahamud Bankah, the Puntland minister of information told IRIN on 22 October: "Our estimate is close to 20,000 people are now displaced."

Tension created by the arrival of the Somaliland forces, he added, was hampering humanitarian assistance to those affected. Somaliland, however, dismissed the claim, saying many of the displaced were forced to flee by Puntland propaganda that said they would be harmed.

"They [Puntland] are engaged in fear mongering through the media," said Said Adani, Somaliland spokesman. "They should stop scaring people with this false propaganda. No one has been harmed since Somaliland took control of Las Anod and no one will be."

Adani said Somaliland forces were not inside the town, but remained outside to ensure the safety and security of the population. He added that only local administration people, ministers and MPs from the area were inside Las Anod to restore calm.

Bankah, however, warned the authorities of Somaliland to withdraw its forces from the region. "It should be clear to them [Somaliland] and everybody else where the people of Sool want to be," he said. "This region [Sool] along with Sanag [another disputed region] is part and parcel of Puntland."

Dismissing fears of renewed clashes, Adani said that Somaliland "will defend its borders but will not attack anyone”.

Further protests were said to be taking place on 22 October.

"Demonstrators are burning tyres and blocking roads," said a local resident.
"Yesterday [21 October] saw the worst demonstrations, with them burning tyres and attacking ministers from Somaliland."

Sool and Sanaag geographically fall within the borders of pre-independence British Somaliland, but most of the clans are linked to Puntland.

ah/sr

[ENDS]

Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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