At least 96 people have been killed in 17 days of clashes between security forces and clan members in the breakaway Somali region of Somaliland, a hospital director said Thursday.
“We have 96 dead and 560 wounded,” Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, director of the main hospital in the contested town of Las Anod, told AFP by telephone.
Garaad Jama Garaad Ali, a senior clan chief, had said on Wednesday that 150 people had been killed and 500 wounded.
Somaliland, which has claimed independence from Somalia since 1991, but has never been recognized internationally, is often seen as a beacon of stability in a chaotic region.
Political tensions, however, have surged in recent months, leading to deadly violence between government forces and militias loyal to Somalia.
The latest fighting broke out on February 6 in Las Anod, which straddles a key trade route and is claimed by both Somaliland and neighboring Puntland, a semi-autonomous state of northeastern Somalia.
Heavy fighting was still raging on Thursday, according to the region’s clan leaders and witnesses.
“It started in the early morning and already several artillery and mortar shells landed in the town,” resident Mohamed Saleban said by phone, adding that people were fleeing.
The violence erupted after elders in the Sool region, where Las Anod is located, issued a statement pledging support for Somalia’s federal government and urged Somaliland authorities to withdraw their soldiers from the area.
Somaliland authorities announced a ceasefire on February 10, but days later accused Somalia of attacking its forces.