Fighting broke out early Monday along Somalia’s border with Kenya, leaving at least nine dead and several injured on both sides of the frontier, according to officials and witnesses.
Somalia accused Kenyan troops – and Somali fighters it says were trained by its neighbour – of entering the border town of Bulohawo and attacking federal army bases there. Kenya has denied any role in the clashes.
The incident is the latest linked to a political crisis in the semi-autonomous Jubaland region of Somalia which has strained diplomatic relations between the East African countries.
Kenya is a supporter of Jubaland’s regional president Ahmed Madobe, who has been at odds with the federal government in Mogadishu, and is refusing to take part in already delayed national elections.
“The Somali national armed forces repelled and ended a dawn raid on Bulohawo by Kenyan troops and rebel Somali militia it had trained to take control of the town,” Information Minister Osman Abukar Dube told a press conference in Mogadishu.
“The Somali forces captured 100 Kenyan-trained rebel militia during the fighting, and they are detained in a safe location.”
The minister accused Kenya and these militia of having “bombed civilian-populated locations and killing five children and their mother in one of the shellings”.
A military commander in Bulohawo, Colonel Mohamed Abdulle, said three soldiers had been killed.
The death toll could not be independently confirmed.
Kenya’s Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said the clashes were related to an “internal” conflict in Somalia.
“We are not involved in it and none of our forces has crossed the border to go to Somalia,” he said.
Ahmednur Yusuf, a resident in Bulohawo, told AFP he “saw the bodies of eight people, five from the same family, whose house was struck by a shell”.
“I saw dozens of prisoners of war captured by the Somali forces from Jubaland troops, they were lined up and taken to a military camp outside the town,” he said.
Ali Roba, the governor of Mandera on the Kenyan side of the border, said in a statement that 12 people had been hospitalised with injuries from stray bullets, and a missile which hit a home in the town.
Kenya sees Jubaland — a lush, relatively prosperous part of Somalia where it has many troops — as a buffer between it and Al-Shabaab militants who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.
In June last year Mogadishu officially recognised Madobe as the leader of Jubaland after a contested regional election in August 2019.
However Somali forces have not pulled out of the region as promised, and Jubaland is refusing to take part in national elections which had been due in February, but have faced multiple delays.
Somalia in December severed diplomatic ties with Kenya for “interference” in its politics.