The southern Somali border town of Bulo Hawa, Gedo Region, is said to be almost deserted after people fled heavy fighting on Friday. Humanitarian sources told IRIN that most of the town's population of an estimated 25,000 had fled, after at least 30 people were killed in a battle between two sub-clans. Over 30 casualties were admitted to a hospital in the neighbouring border town of Mandera, Kenya, humanitarian sources told IRIN. The NGO Trocaire said it had provided emergency medical supplies to Mandera, and a Trocaire doctor was operating out of Mandera hospital with surgical cases.
Most of the displaced were renting accommodation or staying with relatives in Mandera, Kathleen Fahy of Trocaire said. The Kenya authorities have opened the border to fleeing civilians. No organised assistance had been provided for the refugees, but elders had discussed with Kenyan authorities the possibility of opening a temporary camp, humanitarian sources said. "It is very likely that the displaced will return to Bulo Hawa as tension eases," she told IRIN. Trocaire said it was monitoring the situation closely. Elders and religious leaders are trying to negotiate a settlement between the sub-clans involved in the fighting.
Local sources said the fighting was sparked off after a prominent figure from the Eldhere sub-clan was arrested by the local Rer Hasan-run administration. He was charged with being a member of the Islamic Al-Ittihad group. Eldhere militia attacked the police station and released him, which triggered a surprise attack by Rer Hasan militia. Local sources say that the Eldhere are pushing to regain control of Bulo Hawa, "which they lost because of external support for the Rer Hasan". There had been tension in the town since Ethiopian troops pulled out, the source said. The Rer Hasan administration has used a former Ethiopian base just outside the town, which was described as a well-defended spot with deep trenches.
The Ethiopian government has strongly denied that it had troops in Bulo Hawa at any time. According to statements by the Ethiopian government, it has, however, protected the mutual border against the threat posed to Ethiopia by Al-Ittihad.