HARGEISA (SomalilandPress) – Officials are warning renewed fighting is likely between two rival clans in breakaway Somaliland, where they are reported to have amassed a large number of weapons and positioned hundreds of militiamen near disputed farmland in Gabiley region.
“We are afraid new conflict could break out any time,” a police officer, who requested anonymity, told IRIN, adding that the clans had at least 1,000 militiamen, armed with automatic rifles such as AK47 rifles and BKM handguns, in or near the Elberdale farmland area.
The dispute over the farmland dates back to the 1950s with the two clans – the Reer Nour and Reer Hared – each claiming ownership.
Since the beginning of 2009, they have fought at least four times: in April, May, July and September, resulting in 19 deaths and several hundred families displaced.
Dahir Muhumed Eggeh, one of the Reer Hared militiamen, said a farming project, established in the late 1950s, was at the centre of the conflict, which came to a head in 1988. The clans fought on opposite sides of the 1981-1991 war between the Somali National Movement (Somaliland’s liberation organization) and the army, which was loyal to then Somali president, the late Mohamed Siad Barre. The Reer Nour supported Barre while Reer Hared supported the SNM.
Aw Hassan Diiriye Elmi, a former chairman of Gabiley District, said: “This conflict is linked to the repercussions of [actions by] Siad Barre, who tried to remove one of the clans from their land… we came back to the country from refugee camps to find new signs put up by our neighbours, who have since tried to take away our lands.”
With the two clans arming militiamen, the price of handguns and other light weapons has gone up.
“Before [in 2008], light weapons, such as a Kalashnikov, cost US$370-400, but now it goes for between $650 and $700,” one of the militia leaders in Elberdale said.
The militia leader, who requested anonymity, said: “There are two routes for weapons to enter Somaliland – crossing from Bosasso [in Puntland] to the eastern regions of Somaliland, and from the west, especially the area between Zaila and Lughaya at a place called Sanka Doonyaha, where fast boats load weapons at night.”
Abdillahi Omar Qawdhan, a Somaliland coast guard consultant and marine expert, told IRIN: “We have information that illegal small arms are smuggled to parts of the Somaliland coast but what we know is that small-calibre ammunition is imported to the west coast in sacks by the Yemeni boats that import fuel and other items to the west coast ports such as Cel-Sheik, Bula-Har, Bulo-Addo and Zaila.
“We have information that even small arms such as the BKM and bullets are being imported by local businessmen. Weapons destined for Ethiopia as well as Somalia have been smuggled to these places.
“Since the beginning of 2009, we have recovered more than 300 pistols [smuggled in] from Yemen in the eastern Berbera [Sahil region],” he said.
However, Mohamed Osman Hudhun, Somaliland’s western coast army chief, disputed this, saying: “There are no weapons imported into the western coast because I am from this area and every single incident is reported to me.”
Source: IRIN, Oct 16, 2009