Officials in the breakaway republic of Somaliland say their forces clashed with troops from the semi-autonomous Puntland region earlier this week over a disputed strip of desert that has been the source of violence for years. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, analysts say rising tensions between the two regions is further complicating efforts to pacify the Horn of Africa.
A statement issued by the Somaliland Information Ministry says that Puntland security forces in nearly 24 trucks, most mounted with heavy weapons, attacked the town of Dahar early Monday morning.
Somaliland says one person was killed and three others wounded in subsequent fighting, but it did not say which side suffered the casualties.
Dahar is located near the border of Somaliland and Puntland in a region called Sanag. Sanag, along with neighboring Sool region, has been the site of numerous clashes between the two sides for more than a decade.
Somaliland, the former colony of British Somaliland, declared itself an independent republic in 1991, after the fall of Somalia's last government. It says the Sanag and Sool regions are part of its territory under the colonial border left by the British.
Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Somalia, says Sanag and Sool are part of Puntland, because both regions are inhabited by Somalis belonging to the Puntland-based Harti clan.
In a telephone interview with VOA, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Puntland police force, Abdul Aziz, insisted that his men entered Dahar to defend Puntland territory.
"Those people from Somaliland, they wanted to capture our land, you see, and it is impossible," he said. "We are Harti and our land is Harti land."
Residents in Dahar say the situation remains extremely tense. Somaliland and Puntland commanders have reportedly called for reinforcements in preparation for a bigger battle.
Horn of Africa analyst Iqbal Jhazbay at the University of South Africa says he believes tensions are escalating because Puntland feels threatened by recent efforts by Somaliland to strengthen local governing structures in Sanag and Sool regions.
He says Puntland is also alarmed about a visit four Somaliland legislators made on Wednesday to the town of Buhodle in southeastern Togdheer region, adjacent to the Ethiopian border. Although the town is well inside Somaliland territory, Puntland also claims it on an ethnic basis.
Jhazbay says the simmering border dispute has now reached the point where an all-out war is possible.
"What is seriously required is for the international community to look at a way to mediate this and demarcate the border once and for all," he noted. "If the issue is not resolved, this could fester and could very well lead to what I refer to as the Ethiopian-Eritrean debacle, with a huge loss of life."
Horn of African rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war between 1998 and 2000, which is believed to have killed tens of thousands of people.
That border dispute remains unresolved and analysts have expressed deep concern that the two countries are now engaged in a proxy war in southern and central Somalia.