A U.S.-based media rights group has condemned the leadership of Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland for banning all reporting by journalists who work for VOA.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Puntland's leaders to immediately allow the U.S.-funded media organization to resume its news coverage without harassment.

CPJ's Africa program coordinator Tom Rhodes called the ban "a serious affront to press freedom in the region".

The committee said Puntland authorities suspended VOA service on October 1 and accused the news organization of producing "negative" reports that instigated instability in the region.

The group says VOA's Somali bureau chief in Washington (Abdirahman Yabarow) believes the suspension may stem from a VOA interview Wednesday with religious leader Sheikh Sayid Khalif.  In the interview, Khalif told VOA he opened a branch of the moderate Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jama'a in Puntland's capital city, Garowe.  He said the group is non-militant and will not engage in fighting.

Puntland has been relatively peaceful compared to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which sees near-daily violence and killing.    

The non-partisan International Crisis Group has warned that poor governance and poor leadership in Puntland is causing a rise in instability and political tension.  The group said that unless major reforms are enacted, Puntland could disintegrate and possibly be overthrown by an underground militant Islamist movement.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into civil war.