Al-shabaab ceasefire call
UN chief on surprise visit to battle-scarred Mogadishu
MOGADISHU: UN chief Ban Ki- moon urged Somalia’s al-qaeda-linked insurgents to end violence during a surprise visit to this war-torn city yesterday. He wore a bullet-proof jacket.
Flanked by a guard wearing a white UN helmet, Ban was welcomed at the airport by Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali on the first visit in nearly two decades by a UN chief to Mogadishu, often described as the world’s most dangerous city.
“We call on the opposition armed group al- Shabaab to stop violence and participate in the peace process,” Ban said.
After making a brief visit to the AU mission (Amisom), AU forces escorted him through the bombed-out city to the presidential palace.
He said his visit was the first to Mogadishu since 1993, when the world body still had a large Somalia peacekeeping force, whose deployment was considered a debacle and left a lasting trauma among Western military planners.
Somali president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who had earlier been reported to be out of the country, said the visit “encourages peace and development” and “demonstrates how security has improved in Mogadishu”.
The city has nonetheless seen an increase in grenade and roadside bomb attacks since al- Shabaab abandoned fixed positions there in August and began guerrilla tactics.
But Ban’s visit also comes at a time when pressure is growing on al-shabaab as pro-government Somali forces are now backed not just by Amisom in Mogadishu, but also by Kenyan troops in the south and Ethiopian soldiers in the west.
The most high-profile visits to Mogadishu recently were by Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August and by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni.
Museveni’s troops form the backbone of the 9 700-strong Amisom, which has allowed Sharif ’s weak Transitional Federal Government to survive but has failed to stamp out the al-shabaab-led insurgency.
Other troops are provided by Burundi but Ban, speaking in Nairobi on Thursday, wel- comed Kenya’s plans to bring its troops in the south under Amisom command.
Kenya’s contribution would help bring the force to its full authorised capacity of 12 000.
Nairobi unilaterally sent troops across its border with southern Somalia in October in a move to contain attacks by alShabaab, which it blamed for a spate of kidnappings that have dealt to a blow to Kenyan tourism.
Next year is set to mark the end of an eight-year Somali transitional administration that has failed to fulfil most of its key objectives.
Ban said the UN’S political office for Somalia, which has so far been operating out of Nairobi, would open in Mogadishu next month.
“The UN will also open its political office in Mogadishu in January next year,” he said.
The transitional Somali government was formed in neighbouring Kenya in 2004 with a five-year mandate to reconcile the conflict-shattered country, write a new constitution and hold elections.
While the UN has so far resisted calls by the AU to take over peace operations, it has continued to deliver humanitarian services, despite security concerns.
The Horn of Africa has been hit by its worst drought in decades and the UN has described Somalia as facing the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis, putting a quarter of a million people at risk of starvation.. – SAPA-AFP
VITAL MEETING: Somali parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, far left, and Somali president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, second left, greet UN General Assembly president Nassir Abdulaziz Al-nasser, right, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, centre, visits the Somali Presidential Palace in Mogadishu.