Somalia: Fighting breaks out near Puntland capital amid election dispute
GAROWE, Somalia - Clashes between Puntland security forces erupted on Tuesday morning in the outskirts of Garowe, the capital of the Federal state, witnesses said, just 9 days before the region holds municipality elections in various councils in the middle of the storm from various opposition political formations.
The forces, sources said, clashed over disputed election boxes which were being escorted to various destinations by UAE-funded Puntland Maritime Police Force [PMPF] who are loyal to the current regional leader Said Abdullahi Deni, a man under scrutiny over plans to extend his term in office.
At least three soldiers are reported to have been killed and several others wounded in the infighting near Garowe airport. The fighting led to the suspension of the flights on Tuesday.
For months, the United Arab Emirates [UAE] has been on the spot for allegedly supporting the current administration, including but not limited to military training and equipping of the local forces. UAE soldiers are said to be training soldiers in the commercial capital of Bosaso without permission from the federal government, critics argue.
Tuesday's clashes left casualties on both sides but at the time of press, the number of those killed and, or injured could not be established. The situation remains tense as forces continue to face off, witnesses said, noting that clashes continued without any party withdrawing.
Later, reports suggested that ballot boxes have since been returned to Garowe. Amidst this turmoil, President Said Abdullahi Deni's government proposes constitutional amendments with only months left in his term, a move that has been opposed by the federal government and local political players.
The incident comes amid the ongoing Puntland Political Consultative Forum which brings together several opposition political formations. The main objective of the forum is to underscore current political tensions over the contentious electoral process and the unlawful ratification of the constitution, Mohamed Farole, a security expert said.
"United with prominent political figures, we stand firm in pursuing justice and democratic integrity. Together, we aim to rectify these issues and uphold the sanctity of our constitution," he added in a tweet, confirming the attendance of a host of local politicians and professionals from the northern state of Somalia.
On Monday during the second day of the consultations, the team addressed the political climate as the state approaches the end of the current government's term. Insightful discussions lie ahead, eager to shape the future positively, Farole, who is also a seasoned economist, added.
Puntland is one of the most stable states in Somalia but the recent political maneuvers by the current leadership could pave the way for chaos and most probably, infiltration of Al-Shabaab militants who are still squeezed in central regions. Deni's term is set to expire in the next few months.