ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi on Friday expressed concern over escalating tension between breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland and called for talks to avert further bloodletting.

The dispute over two small territories on the border erupted Monday into its worst fighting in years, killing as many as 20 people and wounding several others, with combat focusing on the region of Sool.

“I expressed concern over the dispute between Puntland and Somaliland. I urge both parties to (engage in) dialogue and solve matters peacefully,” Gedi told a press conference in Addis Ababa.

According to witnesses, rival forces have deployed forces around the flashpoint Las Anod township — located near the Ethiopian border and some 750 kilometres (466 miles) north of Mogadishu — which is under the control of Somaliland.

The long-running dispute between the rival states is over two territories — Sool and Sanaag — which straddle their ill-defined common border.

On Monday, Somaliland defence minister Abdillahi Ali Ibrahim told AFP the territory is not ready for dialogue after mediation efforts by the Ethiopian government failed to yield a truce, a key setback in the fragile nation.

A former British protectorate, Somaliland united with the Italian Somalia in 1960. But it unilaterally broke away 10 months after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Somaliland, which adopted a provisional constitution in 1997 and ratified it four years later, now boasts its own president, government, parliament, police force, penal code and currency.

Its officials have fiercely rejected any suggestion of re-uniting with Somalia proper, and the transitional government in Mogadishu is opposed to any kind of recognition for the region.

Neighbouring Puntland declared itself autonomous in August 1998 under the leadership of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the current Somali president.

Addis Ababa — which relies on the Somaliland port of Berbera for its overseas trade — is the only country to recognise the self-declared state.

Tensions between the two northern Somali regions have been running high for months, and on October 1 at least 10 people were killed in a battle for control of Las Anod.