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Aid Agency in Somaliland Freezes Work


One of the last foreign aid agencies working in the self-declared Somaliland region in East Africa has suspended operations because of tension between Somaliland and its neighbor, Puntland. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, clashes between the two sides have killed several people in recent weeks.

The German aid agency German Agro Action says it has withdrawn three of its foreign staffers from projects across Somaliland because of the rising tensions between the two sides over their disputed border.

In late September, clashes between Somaliland and Puntland over the town of Las Anod killed at least 10 people. People in Puntland have also reported that radio stations were broadcasting music that encouraged people to take up arms and fight.

Last week, Puntland claimed to have taken the town, and the clashes diminished. German Agro Action project director Peter Sass says clans in the town have fought each other and sometimes play the two regions off of each other.

"There is a little bit in the area, how should I say, that maybe the people in Las Anod are always playing poker, they look under which conditions they can live better, and so sometimes they like to stay to Somaliland and sometimes they like to be in Puntland," he said. "So they are playing their cards a little bit. But now it came to this point that there was a big movement from the Somaliland side to go there. Last year I was also here and it was not as much as it is now."

Somaliland claims Las Anod and the surrounding region based on borders from the colonial era, while Puntland claims the region because of the clans that live there.

Sass says German Agro Action will review the situation in the coming days and decide whether to return staff to the region. The agency does a range of work, including projects on food security, environment and health.

He says that the two sides are trying to negotiate a peace, and it is his belief that leaders in both regions understand that more skirmishes would only escalate tensions and could lead to a wider war.

"As far as I know, now they are sitting on the table and they try to find a solution for all that," he said. "But my personal feeling is that I think, I hope, that they will find a solution and they are taking the armies back. Because they must know somehow if there will be a clash it will be too big this time, so I think that they will find a solution."

Somaliland is a former British colony that declared independence from Somalia in 1991 soon after Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted. In the years since, it has become far safer and economically more successful than Somalia, which remains in chaos. Puntland, meanwhile, declared autonomy in 1998, but retains close ties to Somalia. It has struggled to match Somaliland's prosperity.