Somalia: Tension rises in Puntland as president mobilizes troops

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GAROWE, Somalia - Tensions are building up in Puntland, the northeastern state of Somalia, multiple sources told Garowe Online, with regional leader Said Abdullahi Deni accused of mobilizing UAE-trained soldiers amid an ongoing electoral standoff that is yet to be solved.

The Puntland Marine Police Force [PMPF], who are trained by the United Arab Emirates [UAE] albeit clandestinely, have started deserting duties in the fight against Al-Shabaab and IS-Somalia within Bari region, with a number of them taking positions in Garowe, the regional administrative capital and Bosaso, the coastal commercial city, witnesses said.

At Bosaso, the occupational forces triggered massive displacement of people on Sunday, sources confirmed. The city witnessed deadly fighting in June this year after Parliament endorsed government proposed Bill to amend the constitution, which critics argue is meant to prolong Deni's stay in power.

Cabinet sitting scheduled for Monday [today], has reportedly been cancelled following tensions in the two cities, with many locals fleeing from their homes for fear of being attacked by the soldiers. It is yet a mystery why the troops were withdrawn from the battlefield at the time Somalia was fighting terrorism.

"There is a real fear among the population that a war between the PMPF forces massing in Garowe and pro-opposition troops is imminent and everybody is trying to get away before it is too late," a resident told
Garowe Online by phone.

Deni, whose term ends in January 2024, has been reluctant to hold elections, instead choosing to have them postponed to February. Yet again, he has been advocating for universal suffrage polls while the opposition is backing an indirect approach, citing infiltration of voter registration exercise by the ruling party.

Last week, the opposition announced plans to go on with indirect polls, accusing Deni of plotting to extend his term in office. Earlier this year, regional lawmakers mutilated election laws, in what is believed was a strategy to extend Deni's term.

The agitated opposition, sources say, has also mobilized its militia in defense of any future attacks probably by PMPF, who are loyal to Deni. Besides trouble with the opposition, Deni has also been uncooperative with the federal government of Somalia, with whom he "cut ties" several months ago.

On Friday, Deni announced he was pardoning the commander of the Danab Special Forces General Jimaale Takar whom he accused of being being the June skirmishes. Deni has had a frosty relationship with the U.S.-trained Danab unit and Puntland Security Forces since he came into office in 2018.

But in response, Mohamed Abdirahman Mohamad, a senior opposition figure in Puntland, dismissed the pardon, noting that the General had never been convicted anywhere of any crimes. Deni is under pressure even from members of the international community, who are calling for "genuine" dialogue.

He has since called for dialogue but insisted that he won't entertain any concerns over the model of elections, which he insists must be universally accepted. But to the opposition, the voter registration exercise was tampered with, with underage children given the opportunity to vote.

This, they argue, was manifested during local council polls in which the KAAH party, which belongs to Deni, won the majority of the seats. Analysts believe should the government delay the exercise, Puntland, one of the most stable federal states, could face challenges in the future, technically giving terror groups a chance to infiltrate the region.

GAROWE ONLINE

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