Delegates to the general conference of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, northeastern Somalia, who were in the process of electing a new Puntland administration, were on Wednesday morning denied entry to the conference hall by armed militia, a local journalist told IRIN. The conference was scheduled at that time to hear the speeches of the last four presidential candidates before the start of voting, Adan Abdirahman Dolar, editor of the Nugal Times said. Instead, the delegates were confronted by the armed militia, who refused them entry.
"They seem to have taken over the conference hall and a branch of the Puntland Bank," Dolar said. The militia, who had originally been brought to the venue to provide security, were complaining that they had not been paid for three months, he said.
Elders led by Islan Muhammad Islan Muse are now meeting to find ways of resolving the situation, while the militia are denying that their action is politically motivated. "This morning, when I asked them about the problem, they said all they wanted was their salaries so that they could pay their bills," Dolar told IRIN. He added, however, that if the elders failed to resolve the situation soon, "it could turn into a political scenario, with those opposed to the conference taking advantage of it, thereby plunging the region into confusion".
There has been confusion over the leadership of Puntland since the end of June, with Col Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad and the former chief justice, Yusuf Haji Nur, both claiming to be president. The controversy started after Abdullahi Yusuf, whose term was to have ended on 30 June, claimed that his mandate had been extended by parliament for three years. Yusuf Haji issued a decree asserting that, under the Puntland charter, he, Yusuf Haji, would be the legitimate authority until a new administration was elected.
Puntland traditional elders meeting in Garowe, the regional capital, in July rejected Abdullahi Yusuf's extension, and named Yusuf Haji as "acting president" until the election of a new administration was held. The general conference was convened on 26 August for this purpose.
Meanwhile, a press statement issued by Isma'il Warsame, the spokesman of Abdullahi Yusuf, said that the "state government of Puntland has restored Law and Order in Garowe, the state's administrative and political capital". It went on to say that this "follows a joint operation conducted by police and 'Darawish' [Somali Field] Forces since Monday". Dolar told IRIN that the situation would become clear once the elders ended their discussions and arrived at a decision. "Right now nothing is clear, but we should know something by tomorrow," he said on Wednesday.