UN’s Ban Ki-moon in Mogadishu on Somalia visit

The UN office for Somalia is moving to Mogadishu from Nairobi, UN head Ban Ki-moon has announced on a rare visit to the Somali capital.

The UN secretary general is the highest-ranking foreign official to visit the war-torn city for many years.

He was wearing a bulletproof vest as he was welcomed at the airport by Somalia’s prime minister.

Islamist militants are battling the forces of the UN-backed government and African Union troops.

Somalia has been racked by war for two decades and has not had a functioning national government since 1991.

Mr Ban’s visit comes a day after the fiercest clashes in the city for several months.

All major roads in the city were closed and flights in and out of Mogadishu were cancelled for security reasons.

Mr Ban was expected to discuss the political situation in Somalia, as well as the famine, which as been declared in some southern areas following a severe drought.

Daily bombing

The BBC’s Barbara Plett, who is travelling with Mr Ban, says he raced through the city’s quiet streets to the presidential palace in a convoy of armoured personnel carriers.

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Barbara Plett BBC News, Mogadishu

This is supposed to be a powerful message from the UN to Somalia’s corrupt and divided leadership – a visit from the UN secretary general and the head of the UN general assembly urging the government to stick to a political roadmap which should see a new constitution and a reformed parliament by August.

The Security Council has said it will withdraw funds if there are no serious efforts to meet the deadline. It has also warned there will be consequences for spoilers – there is some talk of possible sanctions for individuals and groups.

UN officials insist recent security gains in Mogadishu provide a rare opportunity for political progress. The plan to move the UN office for Somalia from Nairobi to Mogadishu is seen as crucial to move the process forward.

Militant group al-Shabab said in August that it was pulling out of Mogadishu but it has since staged several attacks on the city and Mr Ban’s visit was kept secret until after his arrival.

Al-Shabab, which has links with al-Qaeda, controls many southern and central areas of the country.

Some donors accuse the government of spending too much time squabbling and not enough time improving the lives of ordinary people.

The UN Security Council has said it will withdraw funding unless there are serious effort to meet an August deadline to draw up a new constitution and reform parliament.

The government has long demanded that the UN office move into the country and this announcement is seen as very important, our correspondent says.

While UN officials insist that the security situation has improved, Mr Ban’s convoy drove past the site of a suicide bombing earlier this week, which left at least five people dead.

Officials say there is an average of eight bombing incidents a day – both those which are defused and those which go off – so our correspondent says it is clear that the progress remains fragile.

Although some southern areas are no longer classified as famine zones, aid workers say Somalia remains the world’s worst humanitarian situation.

Al-Shabab prevents most Western aid agencies from working in areas they control, accusing them of having a political agenda.


Source:  BBC World Service.

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