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Somaliland Bloodied Again

FILE - A woman and child relax next to a mural of Somaliland's flag, in Hargeisa, Somaliland, a semi-autonomous breakaway region in Somalia, Feb. 9, 2022.

At least 20 people have been killed in Somalia's breakaway region of Somaliland in clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces over several days, according to a doctor at a public hospital.

For more than a week police and the military have been battling the protesters in Laascaanood, a town in Somaliland's east which is disputed between Somaliland and neighbouring Puntland, one of Somalia's semi-autonomous regions.

Protesters are demanding that Somaliland cede control of the town to Puntland and also accuse security forces of failing to end insecurity in the town.

"Somaliland forcefully occupied Laascaanood and failed to secure it. We are demanding that they leave," Adaan Jaamac Oogle, the spokesman of the protesters told Reuters.

Mohamed Farah, a doctor at Laascaanood Hospital, a public facility in Laascaanood, told Reuters at least 20 people had been killed and dozens injured. He said he had seen the bodies of victims brought into the facility.

Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence. The region has been mostly peaceful while Somalia has grappled with three decades of civil war.

Puntland's Vice President, Ahmed Elmi Osman Karash, accused the security forces of violence.

"What is being done by the Somaliland army is a massacre of civilians," he told Reuters by phone.

Mahad Ambaashe Elmi, a senior commander in the Somaliland army, did not pick a Reuters call requesting comment.

Somaliland's Minister of Information, Salebaan Ali Koore, appealed to the protesters in a statement on Saturday to stop their demonstrations and begin negotiations with the government.