MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Heavy fighting broke out overnight in a Somali town near the Kenyan border between Somali forces and those from the state of Jubbaland, as Somalia’s election troubles spill over into violence.
Somalia’s information ministry in a statement early Monday accused Kenya-funded rebels of crossing into the town of Bulo Hawo and attacking Somali forces. But the Jubbaland vice president, Mohamud Sayid Adan, told reporters that Jubbaland forces stationed outside the town were attacked by what he called forces recently deployed to the region by the government in the capital, Mogadishu.
Both sides claimed victory. The information ministry asserted that Somali forces were in control of the town and that nearly 100 of the suspected rebels had surrendered to Somali forces.
But Information Minister Osman Abokor Dubbe later told reporters that five children had been killed and their mother wounded when a mortar round landed on their house.
“Ordinary militias don't have mortars and missiles,” the minister said. “This is proof that Kenya is arming those rebels." He added that some Somali soldiers had been wounded but none killed. The Jubbaland vice president declined to mention any casualties.
Somalia’s accusation of Kenyan involvement comes after Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya in December “to safeguard the unity, sovereignty, stability of the country.” Somalia’s president has been accused by critics of stirring up such issues to draw support as he seeks a second term.
Kenyan Internal Security Minister Fred Matiangi described Monday's fighting as “internal to Somalia and has nothing to do with us (Kenya).
"We are not involved in it and none of our forces has crossed the border to go to Somalia,” he told journalists during a joint press conference with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on renewing security agreements.
Kenya's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that it had raised its concern about the fighting with the African Union continental body.
“Kenya’s primary concern is that the renewed fighting engenders large-scale displacement of civilians inside Somalia and increasingly generates large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers to Kenya, therefore aggravating the already dire humanitarian situation in Somalia and in the refugee camps in Kenya,” the statement said.
Somalia faces a troubled national election in the coming weeks. Jubbaland is one of two states, along with Puntland in the north, that have refused to take part.
In September, President Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi in talks between states and the federal government agreed to withdraw Somali forces from the Gedo region of Jubbaland, where Bulo Hawo is located. But that hasn’t happened, and the Somali forces remain after taking over the town mid-last year.
The president also has replaced district commissioners in Gedo who had been appointed by Jubbaland leader Ahmed Madobe, who is seen to have Kenyan support.
Jubbaland also contains the lucrative port city of Kismayo, where Kenyan forces are deployed as part of a multinational African Union force. The Middle Jubba region, however, remains under the control of Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist rebels.
Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed.