Heavy fighting has broken out between Somali forces and Jubbaland state forces in a town near the Somalia-Kenyan border ahead of general elections due in a few weeks time.
In a statement released early morning on Monday, Somalia’s information minister said the fighting broke out after Kenyan backed rebels crossed into the town of Bulo Hawo and attacked Somali forces.
Jubbaland vice president, Mohamud Sayid Adan however told reporters that the state forces stationed outside the town were attacked by forces recently deployed to the region by the government in the capital, Mogadishu.
There were no immediate details on casualties but both sides have claimed victory with the information minister claiming that Somali forces were in control of the town. Local media reported that fighting was still ongoing and people had begun to flee the town.
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 participate in the election process.
In September, talks between President Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi, 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.
The president also replaced the district commissioners in Gedo who had been appointed by Jubbaland leader Ahmed Madobe. Madobe is seen to have the backing from the Kenyan government.
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.