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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Somali warlords battle for Puntland
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By the BBC's Hassan Barise

Fighting is continuing in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Forces loyal to former regional president Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed are gaining ground from those backing the new leader, Jama Ali Jama.

Puntland fighter
Puntland militiamen have Bossasso in their sights
The fighting started on Monday outside the town of Garoweh, and spread quickly north.

On Tuesday morning, Colonel Yusuf's forces captured Qardho - a town where the supporters of Jama Ali Jama were based, about 200 km (124 miles) from Garoweh.

According to independent sources, there was no exchange of gunfire in the town as Jama Ali Jama's militiamen were unable to contain Colonel Yusuf's advance and fled.

Ultimate prize

The recent fighting has been fierce. Sixteen people are reported to have been killed and 20 others wounded.

The two sides are facing each other in a land where there are no trees, or shelter from gunfire.

Besides assault rifles and machine-guns, both sides are using heavy weapons, such as anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars.

The capture of Qardho is an important victory for Colonel Yusuf, but the fighting is unlikely to stop there.

The colonel's ultimate target is Bossasso, a port-town which is the commercial capital of Puntland.

Bossasso lies 250 km north of Garoweh.

Bitter rivalry

Last year clan elders elected Jama Ali Jama as the new head of Puntland, but this was immediately rejected by Colonel Yusuf, who described the vote as futile and illegal.

He accused supporters of the transitional government in Mogadishu of being involved in the leadership change, although it is not clear whether Mr Jama is any more sympathetic to Mogadishu than Colonel Yusuf.

The autonomous region was created in 1998, partly to avoid the violence that has plagued Somalia which had been without a central government since 1991.

A new interim government came to power in Somalia last year, but has so far failed to impose its authority on the country.

See also:

23 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali leader promises battle
21 Nov 01 | Africa
Fierce fighting in Puntland
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