At least 38 people were killed, and more than 130 others injured following two days of fighting in Las Anod town, in eastern Somaliland.
Health officials also reported Las Anod General Hospital, the town’s main medical center, was hit by suspected mortars.
“We were hit by four incoming fires which destroyed some parts of our offices,” said Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, the hospital director.
Hassan said the hospital was targeted Monday and Tuesday and that some of the staffers and patients fled the facility to seek safety elsewhere.
Hassan also said other hospitals recorded casualties, but he did not give additional figures because he was not in communication with those medical facilities.
Somaliland declared its secession from Somalia in May 1991 but has not yet achieved international recognition. Despite the lack of recognition, Somaliland was widely praised by the international community for achieving stability and holding democratic elections.
The clashes between Somaliland forces and local fighters comes after weeks of tension in the town following the killing of a local politician by masked gunmen. It was the latest in a series of assassinations in the town over many years, incidents which authorities blamed on al-Shabab fighters.
Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi accused the “enemy of Somaliland” of being behind the killings.
This latest fighting also comes amid a dispute over the future status of territories in eastern Somaliland, where a significant number of the locals appear to support unity with Somalia.
Each side accused the other of starting the fighting.
On Monday, local elders who have been meeting in the town issued a declaration stating they are not part of Somaliland. The declaration stated the territories are part of the federal republic of Somalia and “stand for the unity and integrity” of Somalia.
The Somaliland government dismissed the declaration.
In a statement, Somaliland said its forces are fighting “international terrorist groups that have been planning on creating insecurity, and instability” in Las Anod, and it warned that the violence in Las Anod is threatening the stability of the region.
In the same statement, Somaliland said it is prepared to resolve the situation in Las Anod through dialogue and consensus.
The elders in Las Anod said they are not terrorists and that they elected 45 members to govern the area. They urged Somaliland to withdraw its forces.
Calls for dialogue
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has called for the cessation of hostilities in Las Anod. He said in a speech the conflict in Las Anod requires a “political solution.”
He said resolving the dispute will be part of the overall effort to gain the unity of Somalia. “Put down the weapons, cease the fire, start dialogue," Mohamud said.
The federal government also said it welcomes the decision of the people of Las Anod to support solidarity with Somalia.
Mohamud has urged respect for the wishes of the people. He said to continue to spill the blood of Somalis is “unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, foreign diplomatic missions in Mogadishu, including the United Nations, the European Union, African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), and the United States, issued a brief statement calling for a peaceful settlement.
Separately, the U.N.’s deputy special envoy for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, said in a tweet the new clashes have displaced more than 80,000 people in Las Anod, and that international human rights law, where applicable, must be upheld.
Nuh Muse Birjeb contributed to this report.