More than 1,000 families (about 6,000 people) have been displaced from the town of Buuhoodle and nearby villages in eastern Somaliland after heavy fighting on 8 February between the Somaliland Army and clan militias loyal to the newly created Khatumo State, locals told IRIN.
The area has been disputed, with both the self-declared republic of Somaliland in northwestern Somalia, and the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, claiming them.
Khatumo State was established on 12 January by clans from the area that want to remain part of the larger Somalia.
Abdi Farah Abdulle, an elder in Buuhoodle, told IRIN that people had been moving from the area for fear of being caught in the fighting since 26 January when the first clashes erupted. “But after yesterday’s fighting, many families have left the town. This morning many more are leaving. I saw many families using whatever means they can to get out.”
Abdulle said most of the displaced fled the nearby villages of Sooljooto, Maygagle and Shangale. Most of the displaced were living in the open with no proper shelter, he said.
He said the area had been suffering from severe water shortages before the clashes. “These families have gone to areas with few or no water points. One drum [200 litres] of water costs around 120,000 shillings [about US$4], an amount the vast majority cannot afford.”
Abdulle said the movement of people was still ongoing, since the armed groups were still facing each other.
A local journalist told IRIN the fear in Buuhoodle and nearby villages was that fighting could resume any time.
He said many of those displaced were in areas difficult to access. “So far no aid has reached them and some are living in the open.”
He said no fighting had taken place in Buuhoodle since 8 February but the frontlines were only 18km from the town.
Exact casualty figures were not available. “We have seen 10 dead and 20 injured but those are the ones who reached the town. We don’t know how many have died on the frontlines,” the journalist said.
Abdillahi Jama Geeljire, Somaliland’s Minister of Fisheries and Ports, told IRIN that Somaliland forces had not initiated the clashes. “Our forces were attacked by a clan militia and had to defend themselves.”
Geeljire said the Somaliland authorities would do whatever was necessary to end the conflict through dialogue. “We are offering them to discuss whatever grievances [they have] and cease their hostile activities.”
He said Somaliland would do whatever was necessary to make sure “no more blood of our people [Buuhoodle residents] is spilled”.
He did, however, warn that Somaliland would defend its territory. “Somaliland is capable of defending its territorial integrity and we will do so if forced.”
He said the conflict had the potential to spread and destabilize the whole region – “something we don’t want to see but those who are behind these attacks must cease and desist”.