Police in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland said nine officers were ambushed and killed in gun battles between security forces and armed militiamen loyal to the opposition.
The attack occurred on Friday in a mountainous area some 95 kilometres (59 miles) from the region’s capital Hargeisa, police commander Mohamed Adan Saqadhi said.
The militiamen “ambushed around thirty members of the police… and killed nine,” Saqadhi said, adding that 17 others were wounded.
Somaliland, which has claimed independence from Somalia since 1991, has never been recognised internationally but is often seen as a beacon of stability in a chaotic region.
However, political unease has mounted in recent months.
Since July, clan militia have taken up arms to protest against the October 2022 extension of the region’s president Muse Bihi Abdi’s term.
Somaliland’s electoral commission last month said that the disputed vote for the president will be held in November 2024, 11 months after party nominations.
The opposition have voiced concern at the timetable, accusing the government of dragging its feet in conducting the polls.
Interior minister Mohamed Kahin Ahmed said the main opposition Wadani party was responsible for the Friday attack, accusing its head Abdirahman Iro of hosting the attackers.
Iro denied the charges and called on all armed civilians to lay down their guns.
“We have already made the values of our party clear and I will say it again, we protest against a solution that is sought through the barrel of the gun and force.”
Somaliland, a region of 4.5 million people, is a former British protectorate.
It prints its own currency, issues its own passports and elects its own government but its quest for statehood has gone unrecognised, leaving it poor and isolated.
The region has been relatively stable in comparison to Somalia, which has witnessed decades of civil war and Islamist insurgency.
President Abdi last week signed the election timetable into a decree.
The run-up to the delayed poll was marred when several people were killed and dozens wounded in August last year after police fired on anti-government demonstrators in several towns, according to opposition party members and witnesses.