LAS QOREY, Somalia July 12 (Garowe Online) - Forces loyal to Somalia's breakaway state of Somaliland voluntarily withdrew from a town in the disputed region of Sanaag, Radio Garowe reported.
The Somaliland troops captured the old port town of Las Qorey four days ago, after rival forces from the region of Puntland retreated to the east.
Jama Hersi Farah, the Puntland state minister for security, confirmed to Radio Garowe during a Saturday interview that Somaliland forces withdrew towards the Sanaag provincial capital of Erigavo.
"Puntland forces are [now] in control of Las Qorey and they [Somaliland] withdrew at 1pm," he said from the town of Badhan, also in Sanaag region, where a three-member Puntland Cabinet delegation is visiting
Mr. Farah suggested that the withdrawal of Somaliland forces was a result of Puntland troops who advanced on Las Qorey from "three deferent locations," including Badhan town.
But Somaliland's defense minister, Mr. Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim, rejected reports that Somaliland troops withdrew from Las Qorey and suggested that such reports are "spread by the enemy."
"Somaliland troops have not withdraw – and they will not withdraw – because they are in their country and they are defending their people," the defense minister told reporters at a press conference in Hargeisa, capital of breakaway Somaliland.
The two rival sub-states, located in northern Somalia, have fought several times over control of Sool and Sanaag regions since 2002.
Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but remains unrecognized internationally, claims Sool and Sanaag regions fall within the borders of colonial-era British Protectorate of Somaliland.
But Puntland government officials claim that they only recognize "clan borders" in the post-1991 era, when civil war and foreign invasion destroyed the Somali nation-state.
In recent weeks, Sanaag region has attracted plenty of media attention after a German man and his wife were kidnapped by pirates and held hostage in the mountains of Sanaag.
The kidnappers have demanded a ransom, but traditional elders are reported to be negotiating the safe release of the foreign captives.
Last week, the region's clan elders appealed to Somaliland and Puntland regional administrations to withdraw their forces from Sanaag and allow the elders to negotiate with the kidnappers and peacefully resolve the crisis.
Source: Garowe Online