At least six persons were killed Friday in a village in Puntland State in northern Somalia as fighting erupted between Puntland government forces and a militia from neighboring Galmudug area, with Puntland officials accusing Somali Federal Government of arming the militia "to destabilize Puntland", Garowe Online reports.
Puntland Deputy Security Minister Abdiaziz Said (Badugaye) told a press conference in the capital Garowe that the fighting erupted at 12:00pm and continued for one hour.
In a written statement, Puntland's government condemned "the planned and coordinated attack of aggression on Puntland defense line in Mudug Administrative Region" where Puntland administers three districts in north Mudug (Galkayo, Galdogob and Jariban). Rival groups control the other two districts in south Mudug (Hobyo and Harardhere), including Galmudug militia, Al Shabaab militants and piracy gangs.
According to Puntland officials, "militiamen in over 20 vehicles carried out a coordinated attack on Godod village, 30km east of Galkayo on the road to Jariban town inside Puntland jurisdiction". Minister Badugaye told reporters that Puntland forces "repelled the attackers, inflicted casualties and seize one armed-truck from the fleeing militia".
He said that one Puntland soldier "suffered light wounds" during the one-hour battle and could not confirm casualties on the other side, saying only "there were deaths and injuries", and warning that "renewed fighting might erupt" in that area.
Local sources reported to Garowe Online news agency that six fighters were killed during the battle and dozens wounded.
Minister Badugaye noted that Puntland government forces "are based near Godod village and responded quickly to the attack", vowing that Puntland government "would defend the peace, security, stability and progress of the people and State of Puntland from all enemies, domestic or external".
Federal Government blamed for 'arming militia'
The Puntland statement strongly condemned the role of Somali Federal Government in allegedly arming the Galmudug militia.
Abdikarim Hussein Guled, Somali Minister of Interior
"In recent days, Puntland intelligence has been monitoring the arrival of arms shipment at Galmudug-controlled Bandiiraley airstrip, 60km south of Galkayo. Intelligence information confirms that Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) officials, including Mr. Abdikarim Hussein Guled, FGS Minister of Interior who hails from Galmudug neighborhood, sent the arms shipment to Bandiiradley," the statement read.
The statement continued, saying that Puntland "suspended all relations" with Federal Government in August and accusing Federal Government of involvement in "efforts to destabilize Puntland during the ongoing election process and aim to re-ignite clan wars of the 1990s".
At the press conference, Minister Badugaye said: "The Federal Government supports trained and equipped militia with bases at locations at Wargalo 60km from Galkayo and Golol 160km from Galkayo aiming to foment instability in Puntland, but this will not work as Puntland will defend itself. However, we always advise for Somali communities to co-exist in peace and good neighborly relations."
Puntland's statement condemned the Federal Government's "destructive role in Somalia" and warned against the "catastrophic impact" of Federal Government's policies and conduct.
Puntland government commended "the courageous role of Puntland government forces in securing the State's future", saying: "The aspiration of Puntland and the Somali people is to overcome security challenges and to achieve lasting peace, justice and progress in Somalia."
Federal Government officials have not responded to Puntland's public allegations. Independent sources in Galkayo confirm to Garowe Online news agency that "military tensions are high" around the area where Friday's battle occurred.
Galkayo was a major flashpoint of the Somali civil war in the 1990s, when Mogadishu-based clan militia rampaged Galkayo and killed hundreds of Puntland civilians, and Puntland fighters expelled the militia in a military campaign. A peace pact was signed in 1993, but that pact has been on shaky ground as many attacks on Puntland originate from Galmudug area of Galkayo.