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Kenya Urges End To Somaliland, Puntland Tension.

Kenya Urges End To Somaliland, Puntland Tension NAIROBI, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Kenya said on Monday growing tension between two rival regions of neighboring Somalia could destabilize talks in Nairobi aimed at bringing peace to the whole of the ruined Horn of Africa country.

At least two people in Somaliland were killed in fighting between the forces of Somaliland and its rival Puntland earlier this month. The two territories have fought sporadic clashes for years over the ownership of several eastern areas of Somaliland that Puntland's leaders claim as their own on the basis of ethnicity.

Aid workers have also expressed concern at the tension.

"I would like to call upon both parties to exercise maximum restraint and shun from plunging the region into a conflict that is clearly avoidable," Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka told a news conference.

"The tension between the two administrations of Somaliland and Puntland has potential of degenerating the region into an imminent confrontation, as well as undermining the positive conclusions of the ongoing Somali consultative meeting ... and the reconciliation conference in general."

He was referring to peace efforts that Kenya has hosted for more than a year aimed at ending bloodshed and chaos in the Horn of Africa country of more than seven million people.

War and famine have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past decade in Somalia, torn apart by rival clan militias since the overthrow of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Somaliland leaders are not involved in the peace gathering, saying they have no intention of reuniting Somaliland with the rest of Somalia.

A former British protectorate, Somaliland split unilaterally from Somalia in 1991 after a long independence struggle, taking advantage of the chaos that followed the fall of Barre.

The independence of the normally peaceful enclave has never been recognized by the international community, something which rankles with many ordinary people and with the government.

Puntland, currently ruled by Ethiopian-backed military strongman Abdullahi Yusuf, broke away from Somalia in 1998 to escape the militia anarchy of southern and central Somalia.

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