|Fighting between rebels and the federal government has forced people to flee to Puntland [EPA]
The autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia has announced that it will break with the federal government based in the embattled capital, Mogadishu.
After a special meeting of Abdirahman Mohammed Farole's presidential cabinet on Sunday, the government issued a statement saying that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) "does not represent Puntland in international forums" and that the United Nations Political Office for Somalia should "reconsider its position and support for the TFG at the expense of other Somali stakeholders."
Puntland, unlike the breakaway region of Somaliland to the west, does not consider itself an independent country. Until now, it had supported the federal government, which is backed by the international community but has been greatly weakened by an ongoing war against rebels who are seeking its overthrow.
The statement, read by Daud Mohamed Omar, the planning and international cooperation minister, criticised the Mogadishu government for its "unwillingness to actively support federalism for Somalia in violation of the TFG charter," according to a report by Radio Garowe, a community radio station based in Garowe, the Puntland capital.
Losing Puntland is a blow to the government in Mogadishu, which is led by 45-year-old president Sharif Ahmed and exerts very little control over Somalia, relying on military support from Western governments, such as the United States, to keep rebels from the Al-Shebab movement from overrunning the capital.
Al-Shebab has declared that it is fighting to overthrow the federal government and institute sharia, Islamic law.
In its statement on Sunday, the Puntland government complained that Ahmed had left it out of the recent UN-led Djibouti Peace Process, which laid out the terms of cooperation between the federal government and other groups within Somalia.
"Puntland shall not cooperate with the TFG until a legitimate and representative federal government is established and agreed upon by the legitimate stakeholders in Somalia," the statement said, adding that Puntland also opposed any extension in the TFG's authority, which is set to expire this year.
Puntland is regarded as one of the most stable areas inside Somalia. Many people displaced from the southern parts of the country have moved to Boosaaso, a major port on its north coast. Puntland also recently organised and hosted a national football tournament, the first of its kind in Somalia in 23 years.