In a surprise visit to the Somali capital Mogadishu Friday, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned political leaders they must make serious progress in terms of governance and reconciliation, the Washington Post reported.
He also announced that the UN intends to move its Somali office back to Mogadishu, from the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Despite a recent upsurge in violence in Mogadishu, the news points to the progress being made by joint African Union and government peacekeepers who are fighting Islamist al-Shabaab rebels.
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Ban, who was wearing a bulletproof vest as he was welcomed at the airport by the Somali prime minister, is the highest-ranking foreign official to visit Mogadishu for years, the BBC reported.
He told a news conference at Mogadishu’s presidential palace:
“I believe we are now at a critical juncture, a moment of fresh opportunities for the future of Somalia people ... to bring a new measure of stability and possibilities to people’s lives.”
Ban's visit comes after Mogadishu experienced its most violent fighting for several months, with heavy gunfire exchanges on Thursday in Hilliwa and Karaan districts, and an attack by al Shabaab on a military training camp run by AU troops in Wadajir, south of the capital.
In separate fighting, at least five people were killed in a suicide attack on Tuesday in Mogadishu's Hodan district.
Ban's announcement that the UN office would be moving back to Mogadishu is also indicative of the UN's need to closely monitor Somalia's transitional government, which is funded by foreign donors, the Post reported.
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During his visit, Ban is expected to discuss Somali's political situation in Somalia, as well as the famine in the south of the country, the BBC reported.
Ban reminded political leaders they must make progress on efforts to improve security and governance, and create a constitution by August 2012, amid a UN Security Council threat to withdraw funding if the conditions are not met.
Somalia's transition government declared Mogadishu was under its control in August, when al Shabaab, whose name means “the Youth,” withdrew from the city.
GlobalPost reported on Tuesday that al Shabaab is changing its name to Imaarah Islamiya, which means “Islamic Authority.”
Mukhtaar Robow, one of the group's leaders, said the change came about because “al Shabaab means youth but many of us, including the leaders, are very old.”