MOGADISHU, Somalia — Heavy fighting has broken out in a Somali town near the Kenyan border between Somali forces and those from the state of Jubbaland as Somalia’s election troubles spill over into violence.
Somalia’s information ministry in a statement early Monday accused Kenya-funded rebels of crossing into the town of Bulo Hawo and attacking Somali forces. But the Jubbaland vice-president, Mohamud Sayid Adan, told reporters that Jubbaland forces stationed outside the town were attacked by what he called forces recently deployed to the region by the government in the capital, Mogadishu.
Both sides have claimed victory but people in the town said fighting continued and some people had begun to flee. The information ministry asserted that Somali forces were in control of the town. There were no immediate details on casualties.
Somalia’s accusation of Kenyan support to the Jubbaland leader comes after Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya in December “to safeguard the unity, sovereignty, stability of the country.” Somalia’s president has been accused by critics of stirring up such issues to draw support as he seeks a second term.
Somalia faces a troubled national election in the coming weeks. Jubbaland is one of two states, along with Puntland in the north, that have refused to take part.
In September, President Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi in talks between states and the federal government agreed to withdraw Somali forces from the Gedo region of Jubbaland, where Bulo Hawo is located. But that hasn’t happened, and the Somali forces remain after taking over the town mid-last year.
The president also has replaced district commissioners in Gedo who had been appointed by Jubbaland leader Ahmed Madobe, who is seen to have Kenyan support.
Jubbaland also contains the lucrative port city of Kismayo, where Kenyan forces are deployed as part of a multinational African Union force, and the Middle Jubba region that remains under control of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group.
Hassan Barise, The Associated Press