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Somaliland, Puntland Exchange Detainees
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HARGEYSA, Dec 7, 2005 (IRIN) - Authorities in the republic of Somaliland and the self-autonomous region of Puntland have exchanged detainees who were captured 12 months ago during clashes over the disputed Sool border region.

The exchange, which was organized and coordinated by aid agencies, took place on Monday at Ariade area in Sool, a flash point during previous flare-ups.

Some 24 detainees from Somaliland and 12 from Puntland were exchanged. Military officials from the two territories witnessed the event. The prisoners said they had been treated well during detention.

A local analyst who did not want to be named said the trade signalled a thaw in relations between the neighbouring territories.

Hassan Ali, Somaliland minister of justice, said the authorities in the two territories had been engaged in several months of negotiations that culminated in the release of the captives.

"We have been negotiating with Puntland with the help of agencies like ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and United Nations. We finally reached agreement that both of us should release all the prisoners we have," Ali told reporters in Hargeysa, the capital of Somaliland , on Tuesday.

The Puntland detainees, he added, had been held at the Mandeera security prison, some 70 km north of Hargeysa, while the Somaliland detainees were held in a prison in Garowe, the capital of Puntland.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA) transported the detainees and assisted in their reintegration.

"We helped coordinate agencies and authorities in helping the prisoners arrive at their homes and reintegrate them with the society," Wafaa Saeed, head of the OCHA northwestern sub-office, said in Hargeysa.

During a fact-finding mission to both territories in August, Ghanim Alnajjar, an independent expert sent by the UN, called for the release of those held since the November 2004 clashes. At least 100 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting.

Both sides blamed each other for initiating hostilities. The fighting started at Ari Adey village [30 km north of Las Anod, the capital of Sool].

In September 2004, troops from the territories clashed again near the village of Abeseoley [22 km north of Las Anod]. Sources said tension between the two sides had been simmering since Puntland troops took total control of Las Anod in December 2003. Before then, both sides had official representation in the town.

Humanitarian workers in the region said that over the years intermittent fighting had led to displacement and loss of lives in the Sool region.

Sool and Sanaag regions fall within the geographical borders of pre-independence British Somaliland . When Somaliland seceded from the rest of Somalia in 1991, it claimed that Sool and Sanaag regions were part of its territory.

On the other hand, when Puntland established its regional administration in 1998, it claimed that the two regions fall under its jurisdiction on the basis of ethnicity. It maintained that most of the clans in Sool and Sanaag are associated with Puntland, including the Warsangeli and Dulbahante, which along with the Majeerten - the main clan in Puntland - form the Harti sub-group of Daarod.


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