Las Anod: Under a Rain of Bullets and Shells

Since Monday, the day when the public consultation conference chaired by the local Garaads, traditional chiefs, was preparing to make public their agreement on the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) region self-rule, the city of Las Anod has been subjected to a rain of bullets and shells.

The shelling of Las Anod and surrounding fighting continues unabated, emptying the town of 80% of its residents. So far, there are around 400 dead and more than a thousand injured. As for the victims of Somaliland fighters, little information is shared with the public, but there are also an excessive number of dead, injured and defections.

Militiamen from the separatist region of Somaliland had tried to storm the rebel town but were repelled by local protection forces. These fighters for freedom even went so far as to partially damage the Gooja-Adde command post where the secessionists are entrenched.

However, Somaliland forces, reinforced, according to eyewitnesses, by troops from other parts of the north and equipped with sniper rifles and artillery shells courtesy of the dictator of Djibouti, continued the indiscriminate shelling of the city.

Waves of bombardments unleashed by the secessionist forces have targeted residential areas but also civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, mosques, as well as the public water system and the power supply, paralyzing movement and relief effort in total disregard to international conventions.

The situation is still very atrocious and the incessant attacks have deeply affected the local populations of the region. The intensity of the bombardments forced over 200,000 residents of Las Anod to take refuge far from their besieged city.

International appeals to “both sides” are growing and the international community, which has spoken out on the situation in Las Anod, has strongly condemned the bloodshed in that town, calling for a cessation of hostilities to give the talks a chance.

On Friday, the most optimists welcomed a unilateral ceasefire declaration by previously hawkish secessionist ministers. The regime’s conciliatory language, in stark contrast to the terrorist accusations leveled against the residents of Las Anod, has baffled those familiar with the secessionist leaders’ past war crimes.

On Saturday morning, the harsh reality of the disappointing personality of Somaliland’s president, Musa Bihi, and his interior minister, Mohamed Kahin, two men with bloody pasts, took over. Under their orders, shelling and sniper fire targeting the garaads resumed.

However, the situation in Las Anod is now at its worst: casualties are mounting and much of the town has been destroyed by shelling, making any chance of having a meaningful dialogue or peaceful coexistence in the future a daunting task.

Some commentators have wondered what Somaliland is trying to achieve by destroying Las Anod and killing its people when they don’t want to secede from the rest of Somalia.

Was the ongoing onslaught ordered out of anger, revenge, or simply a vain attempt to dissuade the SSC region from freeing itself from oppression? Why would other regions like Awdal who also oppose separatism would want to stay with a brutal clan-dominated regime?

Omar Salad

Omar is an IT specialist based in Mogadishu.