Africa

Government Forces in North Somalia Fight Militants

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Government forces in the semiautonomous Somali region of Puntland have made two military offensives against allies of the Shabab militant group, trying to drive back insurgent fighters who have been gaining ground in a comparatively stable area of northern Somalia.

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Officials in Puntland said at least 18 militants and three government troops had been killed in fierce fighting in mountain villages along the country’s northern coast, near the port town of Bosaso, on Sunday. The firefight — the second in two weeks — began early and subsided by nightfall, officials said.

Although Puntland is home to pirates and human-trafficking groups, it has also been largely insulated from the warfare that ravaged Somalia in recent years, making it a relative haven for aid groups. But a recently announced alliance between an insurgent commander and Shabab militants has raised fears that militants could destabilize the region.

The warlord, Sheik Mohamed Said Atom, said last week that he would fight the Puntland government until it agreed to impose strict Islamic law. Mr. Atom also declared that “we are members of the Shabab,” a conservative Islamist group that controls much of southern Somalia and claimed responsibility for last month’s deadly bombings in Uganda.

Mr. Atom’s fighters, based in the mountains, have been assassinating local officials and recruiting young jihadists in an attempt to overthrow the government in Puntland, which is run by a clan-based administration.

On Monday, the Shabab announced it was banning three Christian aid groups from its territory, saying they had been spreading their “corrupted ideologies in order to taint the pure creed of the Muslims in Somalia,” according to news reports from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

The three prohibited groups are World Vision, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Diakonia.

In a statement, World Vision said that Shabab members had occupied the organization’s offices, disarmed the guards and taken their keys. The group said it had suspended operations in south central Somalia, but said that its offices in the north of the country would continue. It said the accusations of proselytizing were false.

“World Vision is a Christian organization, motivated by its faith to help children, families and communities living in poverty, but the organization also has specific policies that prohibit proselytizing,” the group said.

The vice president of Puntland, Gen. Abdisamad Ali Shire said the army pushed back the insurgents and claimed positions that had been held by the militants. The Puntland security minister, Gen. Yusuf Ahmed Kheyr, told reporters in Bosaso that police made an unspecified number of arrests.

Members of the militias did not comment on the fighting.

Somalia has been without a central government since 1991, when the former government was toppled by clan militias that later turned each other.

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