Somalia: Puntland-Somaliland Tension and its political effects


GAROWE, Puntland - The Escalating tension in Tukaraq town in northern Sool region has heightened fears that armed conflict between Puntland and Somaliland is fast approaching, Garowe Online reports.

The territorial dispute between the two neighboring states renewed following the capture of Tukaraq, about 90Km north of Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland by Somaliland forces on January 8.

The lucrative village had been fully controlled Puntland troops and served as a customs center and main entrance to the contested region before it fell to the regional army early this month, sparking tension.

Muse Bihi who was elected as the fifth President of Somaliland in November 2017,  has voiced support to state troops' incursion and capture of Tukaraq, saying Somaliland regained a lost territory.

Bihi is a former air force military colonel and member of the Somali National Movement, (SNM), a rebel group that fought for years the secession of the northern regions from the rest of Somalia.

Somaliland's new council of ministers and parliament, which its speaker hails from Sool region have similarly endorsed the military invasion of Tukaraq, where Puntland forces were stationed.

GO understands that President Bihi has rejected repeated requests from the United Nations [UN] and Ethiopia to de-escalate the tension, telling them that the military move was legitimate and irreversible.

While briefing the UN security council, Michael Keating, the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Somalia said the brewing tension in Tukaraq could lead battle between Puntland and Somaliland.

Keating did not point the finger of blame at either of the sides for starting the conflict. 

Since the toppling of former central government in 1991, regional states in Somalia heavily rely on the International community support in infrastructures development and the rebuilding of their institutions.

Tension has been rife in Tukaraq since forces from the northern self-declared breakaway republic of Somaliland took control of a town under the region of Puntland following an attack on 8th January.

The takeover came as Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was on his first day for a weeklong historic visit to Puntland, the first since he was elected to office February last year.

Farmajo did not say a word on Somaliland's raid on Tukaraq, the main customs center for Puntland, but, his government has released a statement urging the sides to show restraint and de-escalate the troop build-up.

Somaliland leaders, including President Bihi, laid the blame for the conflict on the Somali Federal government instead of Puntland. 

Local politicians' role in the conflict

The politicians hailing from Sool and Sanaag provinces who hold posts in Somaliland government said the region's forces captured Tukaraq at the request of Sool residents and sent a stern warning to Puntland state.

Somaliland's Minister of Defense, Essa Ahmed along with Vice President, Abdirahman Abdullahi Ismail Sayli’i paid an unannounced visit to Takaruq town last week to boost the morale of the state troops at the frontlines.

During the tour, Ahmed said Somaliland troops will continue the military operation until they secure control of the entire towns in Sool region, including a location situated between Buuro Wadal and Garowe.

Somaliland Parliament speaker and Ali Khalif Galayr, former President of the defunct Khatumo State, who recently joined Somaliland after a deal last year and several Ministers, including Water and Education supported the invasion.

These politicians want the bring their territory under Hargeisa, in accordance with the new agreement signed between Galayr and former Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Siilaanyo as they seek a power-sharing.

Public sentiment

The people in the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions who are tired out of the long-standing territorial dispute between the states and now say they are in process of dealing with the problem and seeking a real solution.

Their struggle aims to find a way out of the dilemma that has affected infrastructure and social development in the two northern regions which had been beleaguered by battles since 2002 over the control.

There have been attempts to shape a functioning administration in Sool, Sanaag, and Ayn regions, known as "SSC" since the capture of Las Anod by Somaliland in 2007, but, the dream did not come true due to divisions.

The local politicians who led the now-defunct Khatumo state have split between the rival semiautonomous northeastern region of Puntland and the northern breakaway republic of Somaliland.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but is not internationally recognized.

According to reliable sources, the traditional leaders and the people in Sool and Ayn regions are seeking a self-governing as they wanted to be free from the two hostile administrations [Puntland and Somaliland].

Elders hailing from these regions who are now in Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland say they believe their plan could only be successful, if their future state capital, Las Anod is returned to their hands.

The effects of war on the two States

Tensions have been simmering for weeks in Tukaraq, about 90Km north of Garowe since Somaliland forces took control of the strategic town in Sool from Puntland Defence Forces on 8th January following an attack.

Residents fear the current hostilities could escalate into a full-scale war that will have political, economic and security impact on both Puntland and Somaliland. No mediation efforts were made as a battle is imminent in the area.

The new Somaliland President, Muse Bihi whose election has been marred by irregularities and led to a deadly post-election violence is in a deadlock with the opposition party, Waddani which is against Tukaraq seizure.

The division followed past Inter-clan clashes between Habar Yonis and Habar Jeclo clans which form the ruling Somaliland party, Kulmiye, and Waddani who live together with Dhulbahante and Warsangali tribes.

Sources revealed to GO that Habar Yonis clan elders believe the incursion on Tukaraq was lamentable and only serves for the interests of Habar Awal and Hanar Jeclo tribes who formed an alliance during Nov polls.

GO also understands that the region's resources are extremely poor as Kulmiye has incurred massive expenses during the election period with prior debts handed over to the new leader by his predecessor Ahmed Silanyo.

On the other hand, Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali "Gaas" whose popularity has fallen short dramatically in the last four years sees the renewed conflict inTukaraq as a big blow to his government.

As his tenure is expiring next year, President Ali has been accused of failing to improve Puntland's economy and security. His administration also failed to prepare to move to ‘one person, one vote’ elections in 2019.

Since its establishment in 1998, Puntland, a Federal member state situated in northeastern Somalia has relied on a clan-based system in which the MPs were selected by their clan elders, who then elect the president.

Puntland response to Tukaraq attack

Speaking at press conference in Garowe January, President Ali has vowed that Somaliland “will pay a heavy price” for what he described an aggressive attack on the Puntland territory.

Somaliland troops launched a surprise attack on Tukaraq and took its full control from Puntland forces as the government was busy the visit of President Farmajo's January week-long visit.

The separatists seized previously key towns in Sool region, including the provincial capital, Las Anod 8 years ago and continue to expand their presence to new areas beyond the border.

Puntland State President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali "Gaas" is believed to be unhappy the capture of Tukaraq by Somaliland and the locals are pushing the battle to retake the town.

The people of Puntland say Somaliland move was an act of a naked aggression.


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