A group of rebels who were reportedly “surrounded” by security forces in Somalia’s separatist Somaliland region have successfully crossed the border into Ethiopia, while Ethiopian troops have entered border towns in northwestern Somalia (present-day Somaliland), according to reports reaching Puntland-based Radio Garowe.
Somaliland Interior Minister Dr Mohamed Abdi Gabose told reporters Monday that the ONLF ethnic Somali rebels who are fighting against Ethiopia’s government were being searched for by Somaliland security forces in Awdal region, at a mountain range where the international borders of Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti intersect.
Somaliland officials claim that the group of ONLF fighters, who reportedly number between 200 and 700 men according to conflicting reports, landed secretly at Zeila coast in Awdal region of northwestern Somalia (present-day Somaliland).
Dr Gabose, the Somaliland government’s interior minister, alleged that the suspected ONLF rebels wer “trained in Eritrea.”
But a senior member of ONLF who identified himself as the rebel group’s deputy commander told Mogadishu-based radio stations that “no ONLF fighters are trained in Eritrea.” He also denied that any ONLF fighters landed in Somaliland.
Some Somaliland-based media agencies have reported that fighting broke out in the mountain area, but these reports have not been independently verified. Inside sources say the reports of fighting could be an attempt to “save face” for the performance of Somaliland security forces.
Ethiopian troops arrive
Somaliland-based Jamhuuriya newspaper has reported that a force of 1,000-strong Ethiopian troops has entered parts of Awdal region in northwestern Somalia (Somaliland) to conduct military search operations in the mountain range.
There are reports saying that the group of suspected ONLF fighters have “already crossed into Ethiopia,” where the ONLF has waged an insurgency since 1984 and is seeking self-determination for the Somali-inhabited Ogaden region of southeastern Ethiopia.
Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace and stability for nearly two decades. But analysts say the continued unrest in southern Somalia and the low-level insurgency in Ogaden region of Ethiopia is affecting Somaliland’s security.
The bulk of Somaliland’s security forces were sent to Sool region in 2007, leaving parts of the region vulnerable to security risks.
Reports that heavily armed anti-Ethiopia rebels landed on the coast and traveled by land for hundreds of kilometers creates problems for Somaliland’s new administration, led by President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo.
Since President Silanyo’s election in June, Ethiopian government officials have expressed frustration with the new Cabinet ministers, some of whom Addis Ababa accuses of having links to Al Shabaab militants in southern Somalia.
In 1991, Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from the rest of Somalia but has not been recognized internationally. Somaliland claims colonial-era boundaries, but neighboring Puntland contends that Sool and Sanaag regions belong to Puntland due to centuries-old kinship and blood ties.