Since conflict in Las Anod erupted on the 6th of February 2023, the plight of civilians caught up in the clashes has quite correctly become a focus for international concern. However, as with so much surrounding this conflict, reliable statistics and information related to the humanitarian situation have themselves become victims of the war.
The fighting in Las Anod was instigated and provoked by forces from outside Somaliland who entered the town with the express intent of attacking the Somaliland authorities and their security personnel and causing instability throughout the region. It was these external groups who fired the first shots and did so in locations where it was inevitable that civilians would be harmed and civilian infrastructures damaged. Such illegal and irresponsible actions were then blamed on the Somaliland security forces and fake evidence supporting these claims posted on social media posts. For examples, see the following:
Forces opposed to Government of Somaliland firing from within civilian property.
Forces fighting against Government of Somaliland claiming live (unfired) ordnance is evidence of attacks by Somaliland army against civilian targets.
Destruction of Las Anod hospital by local inhabitants. This was later claimed to have been caused by members of the Somaliland Army
On the 10th of February, in an effort to calm the situation and minimise further civilian
casualties and collateral damage to the town, the government of Somaliland called a unilateral ceasefire. On the 25th of February they withdrew their forces from the town. Since then, the Somaliland army has refrained from any actions which directly threaten the lives and property of civilians and have constrained their presence to locations away from areas inhabited by civilians.
However, the withdrawal of Somaliland army and police units from the main civilian areas
inside Las Anod means that it is challenging for the government of Somaliland to safely
collect accurate data concerning the true impact of the conflict on civilians and to respond to the humanitarian needs of these people. Likewise, due to the lack of security in the town, it is impossible for independent organisations to assess the true extent of the humanitarian situation. Consequently, information concerning the situation inside Laascaaanood is only being provided by the very groups who created the conflict in the first place and whose actions caused the civilian crisis. To compound the problem, the groups opposed to Somaliland are using a sophisticated web of false propaganda to propagate a narrative which is very far from the truth, spreading faked evidence of atrocities and the destruction of infrastructure allegedly committed by Somaliland forces. None of this is true.
See: Destruction and looting of property by inhabitants of Las Anod and Buhoodle
So far as figures for civilians displaced by the conflict are concerned, whilst it is possible to
record with some degree of accuracy the numbers of people affected and the locations to
which they have fled, such figures have also been subject to abuse and misinterpretation. TheUNFPA and Somaliland’s Ministry of Planning estimate that the pre-conflict population of
Las Anod was 160,000 persons. They also estimate that less than 10% remain in the town.
However, on occasions figures quoted by sources not aligned with Somaliland for numbers of people displaced by the conflict have been in excess of 500,000. Other lesser figures are still many times greater than the possible total population of the areas affected by the conflict.
There have been other examples of statistics being inflated by groups opposed to Somaliland, either to obtain more resources from international organisations, or to seek political advantage against the government of Somaliland. On occasions these false figures have been repeated by international organisations who have been unable, or unwilling, to secure their own independent assessments. Furthermore, the conflict in eastern Sool has coincided with one of the worst droughts in years and significant numbers of families included in figures for displaced people released by the United Nations and other humanitarian organisations include people escaping drought, or even circumstances unrelated to the situation in Las Anod. Recently there have been confirmed reports of people arriving in camps for internally displaced people in Puntland and Ethiopia from regions unaffected by either conflict, or drought. They do so because of expectations and rumours that they will be granted asylum overseas.
The government of Somaliland was not responsible for creating this humanitarian emergency and has at all times sought to minimise loss of life and harm to civilians and to care for those affected by the conflict. The government has so far recorded 24,566 households as being displaced to 66 locations in Sool, Sanaag, and Bohoodle districts. Some of these households are those affected by drought. All displaced people in these locations are being given humanitarian assistance by the government and its international partners.
The government of Somaliland continues to call for dialogue, a peaceful settlement, and the return of democratic rule to all of Sool region so that the civilian inhabitants may be spared further suffering and allowed to return to their homes. Somaliland also calls upon the international community to join it in challenging the invasion of its territory by outside
aggressors seeking to destroy democracy and the rule of law in Somaliland and thus create a humanitarian emergency which, if allowed to continue, threatens to engulf the entire region.
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