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Urgent investigation needed as fighting takes heavy toll on civilians in Las Anod, Somaliland

Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation into the heavy toll on civilians amid the ongoing conflict between Somaliland security forces and armed fighters affiliated with the Dhulbahante clan in Las Anod. More than 100 people have been killed, and over 600 injured, including dozens of civilians, as Somaliland security forces indiscriminately shelled the town, damaging hospitals, schools, and mosques. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced as a result.

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, urged all parties to the conflict in Las Anod to end indiscriminate attacks, protect civilians, and respect international humanitarian law. He stressed the importance of an independent investigation into all human rights and humanitarian law violations, as well as ensuring accountability and reparation for victims.

Amnesty International interviewed 37 people in Las Anod from 6 February to 6 March, including victims, witnesses, doctors, and humanitarian workers. The organization also analyzed casualty numbers from local hospitals, media reports, and information from NGOs and the Somaliland government.

Since the beginning of February 2023, AOAV has recorded 15 incidents of explosive weapon use in Las Anod, resulting in at least 756 civilian casualties, including 148 deaths and 608 injuries. This accounts for 98% of all civilians reported harmed in Somaliland since 2010, as recorded by AOAV – derived from reputable English language media sources.

Amnesty’s report confirms that civilians, including women, children, older people with health conditions, and healthcare workers, have been killed during indiscriminate attacks involving rockets, mortars, and other explosive weapons. Many of these unguided explosive weapons, such as the 107mm rockets, are too imprecise to distinguish between military objectives and civilians in dense urban settings, violating international humanitarian law’s prohibition of indiscriminate attacks.

Witnesses reported significant damage to civilian buildings, including homes, mosques, schools, and hospitals, due to indiscriminate attacks allegedly carried out by Somaliland forces. Amnesty International compared and analyzed satellite imagery of Las Anod before and after the attacks, identifying over 30 visibly damaged structures, including Las Anod general hospital and several homes.

As a result of the fighting, humanitarian groups estimate that between 154,000 to 203,000 people have been displaced, with the worst affected being women, children, and older people. These displaced communities are living in dire conditions with inadequate housing, scarce medical supplies, and movement restrictions for safety reasons.

The ongoing conflict has also exacerbated an existing humanitarian crisis, as about 214,000 people in the Sool region are experiencing crisis or acute food insecurity due to severe drought. Tigere Chagutah called on all parties to facilitate humanitarian organizations’ unfettered access to civilians in need of assistance in Las Anod and other affected areas.

While Somaliland authorities claim commitment to providing basic necessities, including food, water, and medical equipment, to the people of Las Anod in coordination with local and international humanitarian organizations, humanitarian access remains a significant challenge due to widespread violence and some restrictions from authorities.

Somaliland, located in northwestern Somalia, declared its independence in 1991 but has not been formally recognized by any country. Las Anod, the capital of the disputed Sool region, is largely inhabited by the Dhulbahante clan and has been under Somaliland’s control since 2007. The Dhulbahante have expressed grievances against the Somaliland authorities, including allegations of targeted assassinations, marginalization, and an “economic embargo” on their region.

The recent conflict in Las Anod began on 6 February, following a declaration by Dhulbahante clan elders that they are not part of Somaliland’s administration. This escalation has further intensified the suffering of civilians in the region, emphasising the need for a swift and thorough investigation into the human rights and humanitarian law violations that have occurred.