Somalia: Meeting under “Any Other Business”
Tomorrow morning (7 September), following the closed consultations on the Syria chemical weapons track, Security Council members will discuss the situation in Somalia under “any other business”. The UK, the penholder on the file, requested the meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation in Las Anod, a disputed area between Puntland and the self-proclaimed region of Somaliland. Special Representative for Somalia and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) Catriona Laing is expected to brief.
Council members have been following closely the situation in Las Anod, the capital of the Sool region, since the outbreak of fighting in the area in early February. Tensions have been rising between Somaliland security forces and the local Dhulbahante clan in Las Anod following the assassination in December 2022 of a local opposition politician from the Dhulbahante clan. Fighting erupted on 6 February, the same day that Dhulbahante clan elders in Sool announced their intention to form their own independent federal state in Somalia, named SSC-Khaatumo, to be comprised of the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn regions. The Secretary-General’s 15 June report on UNSOM, covering developments from 8 February to 7 June, stated that violence in Las Anod during that period left at least 36 civilians dead and 270 injured.
On 7 June, Council members issued a press statement that expressed concern over the ongoing violence in Las Anod and welcomed efforts and initiatives by the Somali government, Ethiopia, and clan elders to secure a ceasefire and promote an inclusive national dialogue to address the situation. The statement called on all parties to reach a ceasefire agreement urgently and called on UNSOM to provide further support in accordance with its mandate, including through engaging with all parties where necessary. It further called for the immediate withdrawal of “Somaliland” security forces and called on all parties to exercise restraint and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement to violence, and inflammatory rhetoric in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground. The negotiations on the press statement lasted several weeks and were apparently difficult due to differences among Council members over the format and content of the draft text.
It appears that the UK requested tomorrow’s meeting to give Council members an opportunity to take stock of a recent escalation of the situation in and around Las Anod. On 25 August, following intense fighting, SSC-Khaatumo forces announced that they had taken control of the entire Sool and Sanaag regions, as well as Somaliland’s Goojacade military base, which is located on the outskirts of Las Anod. The SSC-Khaatumo forces reportedly captured numerous Somaliland soldiers, several of whom are senior military officers, including the Goojacade base’s commander. Later that day, the President of the SSC-Khaatumo Administrative Council, Abdiqadir Firdhiye, announced: “[w]e are immediately commencing efforts to secure our region and establish our own administration”. Also on 25 August, Somaliland’s Ministry of Defence released a statement saying that Somaliland’s army has withdrawn from its position in the east of the Sool region “due to military strategy”. The statement added that the army is “undergoing reorganization and heavy preparations to confront the enemy”. Speaking to the press the following day, Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi Abdi stated that the government will take strong measures in response to the 25 August events.
In a 27 August joint statement, the UN, together with several member states and regional and sub-regional organisations, condemned the escalation of conflict in Las Anod, including fighting reportedly spreading outside the town. The statement urged all sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and called for an end to the mobilisation of fighters and to the provision of supplies and armaments. It further expressed deep concern about reports of large numbers of detainees and emphasised the importance of ensuring unhindered humanitarian access and delivery of assistance to those in need.
In a 31 August statement, the Somaliland government condemned “the reports and images circulating online of the inhumane treatment” of Somaliland soldiers who were captured by SSC-Khaatumo forces on 25 August. The statement urged the international community to address the situation urgently and take the necessary steps to ensure that detainees are treated according to international humanitarian law. On the same day, a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited over 300 detainees from the Somaliland army in Las Anod. The ICRC had also previously visited the Hargeisa central prison, where detainees from SSC-Khaatumo are held. A 1 September ICRC press statement noted that the “purpose of these visits was purely humanitarian, with the aim of ensuring that all detainees are treated humanely and that their families know their whereabouts”.
Today (6 September), media outlets reported that Somaliland armed forces have been mobilising in Oog, a town in the Sool region, in a bid to attack the SSC-Khaatumo forces. On 5 September, the chief of the Somaliland army visited these forces together with the defence minister and several other cabinet ministers from the Somaliland government. During the visit, the defence minister reportedly called on the people of Somaliland to stand with the national army and stated that the army “will remove the enemy that invaded [Somaliland]”.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Laing is expected to express alarm over the continued clashes in Las Anod and update Council members about ongoing efforts to secure a ceasefire and facilitate dialogue between the parties to the conflict. Laing and Council members are likely to express concern about the effects of the violence on the humanitarian situation in Las Anod and the Sool region more broadly. Members may also emphasise the need to ensure rapid and unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need. Council members might be interested in hearing Laing’s assessment about how the developments in Las Anod may affect the Somali government’s offensive operations against Al-Shabaab. Looking ahead, developments in and around Las Anod are likely to feature in Council members’ discussions about the renewal of UNSOM’s mandate, which expires on 31 October.
Members may also discuss possible Council responses to the recent developments. In this regard, the UK might propose a draft press statement in connection with tomorrow’s meeting.