Delayed elections in Somalia’s self-declared independent region of Somaliland are playing into the violence in Las Anod, the disputed region where local clans have demanded separation and direct administration from Mogadishu.
This week, a group of 15 international partners asked Somaliland leader to provide a definite calendar on elections, having delayed the polls for over five months now.
The countries including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, UK, and the US said the region must urgently address the delays as it has contributed to violence in Las Anod.
Las Anod, the capital of Sool region, about 1,000 kilometres northwest of the Somali capital Mogadishu, has been the epicentre of armed confrontations between Somaliland forces and militias loyal to local clan leaders resisting in Sool, Sanaag and Cayn regions (collectively referred as SSC-Khatumo).
Although the SSC want out of Somaliland and a portion of the region falls in neighbouring Puntland state, the clans have demanded their own state to be carved out of Somaliland and Puntland. In the meantime, they prefer direct administration from the government of Somalia.
Yet the seed for separation is sowed with a feeling that the Somaliland administration of President Muse Bihi Abdi had marginalised them for belonging to minority clans in the breakaway region.
Bihi’s current presidential term lapsed on November 13, 2022, prompting opposition outrage, occasionally fomenting street protests by supporters of the two opposition political parties, Wadani and UCID, encountering tough reactions from law enforcement agents, causing deaths, injuries and significant detentions.
“The worrying situation is seriously impacting discussions about their engagement with Somaliland,” the partners noted.
The armed clashes that started around Las Anod town on February 6 have gone beyond two months.
Somaliland's administration that unilaterally declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 continues to insist that the deadly confrontation in and around Las Anod town is an internal issue.
SSC-Khatumo elders’ rejection
SSC-Khatumo elders oppose their regions being part of Somaliland and had pledged loyalty to the Mogadishu-based federal government of Somalia in their communiqué on February 6.
The international partners raised serious concerns about the continual violence and conflict in Las Anod town, which is now in its tenth week. In addition, they stressed that there must be an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities and separation of forces to agreed locations.
While Somaliland is resisting the call to retreat its forces from the frontline, SSC-Khatumo, which is led by a group of a 33-member committee appointed by traditional supreme clan elders known as Garaads, are insisting that talks can only start if Somaliland takes its forces to Oog, a location to the north of Las Anod where Somaliland troops were located before they moved and seized the town from Puntland in 2007.
The cornerstone to progress on the Las Anod conflict is that Somaliland feels invaded by what it calls Huwan (alliance) composed of forces from Puntland, one of the federal member states of Somalia, fighters of the Al-Qaeda linked group Al-Shabaab and other rag-tag militias from different clans.
'No association with Al-Shabaab'
Puntland repeatedly denied involvement while SSC-Khatumo elders insist that their clansmen are fighting the Somaliland forces alone and shall continue resisting, dismissing any possibility of having association with an extremist group like Al-Shabaab.
Garaad Abdisalam Hassan Mohamed aka Garaad Abdisalam, the spokesman of the SSC-Khatumo elders had said in March that “Any suggestion that Al-Shabaab extremists are fighting alongside our courageous freedom fighters is an insult to our men and women.”
Garaad Abdisalam added that they could not negotiate with Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) while Las Anod was systematically shelled, affecting civilians building including medical and educational facilities and mass displacement of people, many of them reportedly fleeing to Ethiopia, crossing the border.
“Partners seem to believe that accelerated elections in Somaliland could produce a mandated administration that can initiate a way out of the current dilemma linked with the war at Las Anod,” Sadik Bihi, a Mogadishu-based political observer told The EastAfrican on Tuesday.
Sadik’s observation seems consistent with remarks made by the spokesman of Somaliland’s opposition UCID party Mohamed Ali Bilaal.
Presidential election a solution
While talking to the media last week in Hargeisa town, Bilaal insisted that for Somaliland to solve its problems, it needs to hold the presidential election.
President Abdi and his Interior Minister Mohamed Kahin have been telling the public that elections were delayed by a technical hiccup experienced by the Electoral Commission.