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Six Dead in Northeastern Somalia Violence - 2001-08-06

At least six people are dead following fierce fighting in the autonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia. The violence broke out after Puntland's president unilaterally decided to extend his term in office.

Most of the violence is taking place in and around the port city of Bossaso - 1,000 kilometers north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

The fighting began Sunday, when militiamen loyal to Puntland President Abdullahi Yussuf tried to take control of the Bossaso airport, which is controlled by a faction led by Yussuf Hajji Nur. He opposes President Yussuf's decision to unilaterally extend his term for another two years.

The battle spread to the center of Bossaso, and residents say it is the worst fighting they have seen since Puntland was established in 1994. Both sides are reportedly using heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons.

Puntland had been relatively untouched by the violence that has for years devastated much of Somalia. When civil war broke out following the collapse of President Siad Barre's regime in 1991, Puntland declared itself autonomous.

Last week, celebrations marking President Yussuf's third anniversary were cancelled after gunmen loyal to Mr. Nur destroyed the platform from which Mr. Yussuf was to address his supporters. Skirmishes broke out between the rival militias backing each man.

Because Puntland had been calm for many years, analysts were hoping that it would remain one of the few areas of Somalia not wracked by violence.

Hopes for an end to fighting were raised after a transitional government was installed last year in Mogadishu. But the new government, led by Abdikassim Salad Hassan, has had trouble asserting control over the country. Regional leaders, like President Yussuf, who is backed by neighboring Ethiopia, are determined not to give up their fiefdoms.

Meanwhile in southern Somalia, followers of clan leader Mohamed Said Hirsi, known as General Morgan, have seized the key port city of Kismayo after weeks of fighting against pro-government militias.

Foreign news agencies report at least 17 people were killed in the capture of the port. Kismayo, 500 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, had been the only port usable by the transitional government, which controls little Somali territory.

General Morgan is aligned with the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, a coalition opposed to Somalia's transitional government. The council, like General Yussuf in the north, is also backed by Ethiopia.