Violence flares in Djibouti, conflicting casualty tolls

The government in the strategic Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti said Tuesday that nine people were wounded when gunmen attacked security forces, but an opposition party said 19 people were killed in the clashes.

The opposition Union for National Salvation party also said the wounded included its president Ahmed Youssouf, who is in hospital.

Interior Minister Hassan Omar said that an insurgent force had launched an attack before dawn on Monday in Buldhoqo district, close to the capital Djibouti.

“Dozens of armed individuals came together before launching an offensive against the security forces, among which there are nine wounded including an officer,” he said in a statement late Monday.

But the USN, in its version of the incident, said in a statement that 19 of its members were killed and others wounded when police broke up a traditional religious ceremony in Buldhoqo.

It was not possible to immediately clarify the sharply differing reports.

Omar said the attacks were intended to, “destabilise our nation and to sow divisions within the national community”.

He claimed the violence was “orchestrated by malicious individuals receiving instructions from sponsors who act from abroad,” without giving details.

Several people have been arrested since the violence.

“Police operations already undertaken have allowed the arrest of several people involved in the violence and the identification of seven people who organised them,” said Omar.

“They will be quickly brought to justice to answer for their actions,” he added.

In power since 1999, 68-year old President Ismael Omar Guelleh is expected to run for a fourth term in elections slated for April 2016.

Djibouti, a strategic port on the Gulf of Aden with a key position on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, hosts several foreign military bases, including from the United States, France and Japan.

Many of the naval vessels tasked with combating Somali piracy in the region also use the country’s port to dock.

It is also a contributor of troops to the African Union force in neighbouring Somalia, battling Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants.

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