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UN envoy to Somalia praises 'quantum leap' in security situation

Augustine Mahgia lauded UN-backed African Union forces and Somali troops for combating militant groups plaguing country; promised UN development support at start of Somalia's 'transformation' phase

Bassem Aly, Saturday 6 Oct 2012
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
Somalia's new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud after being elected by MPs (Photo: AP)
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"There is definitely unimaginable change in Somalia," UN Secretary-General Representative for Somalia Augustine Mahgia commented at a Thursday press conference in Kenyan capital Nairobi, adding that the UN's role in the war-torn country had moved "from transition to transformation."

Using phrases such as "turning the corner" and "quantum leap" to describe the end of the transition period, the UN envoy emphasised that the focus for the international organisation was now on "peace-building [and] state-building."

"Ending the transition was momentous because this was a success story which Somalia has not witnessed in the past 21 years," Mahgia added.

The UN envoy gave credit to UN-backed African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces which drove Al-Shebab militants out of the port city of Kismayo last month, a key stronghold for Islamist militia in the country.

"When I first went to Mogadishu two years ago I was in a military truck. The distance from the airport to Villa Somalia (Government centre) is maybe six or seven kilometres," he said. "Today, the streets are full of human beings. There are traffic jams similar to what is seen travelling from here to the town centre (of Nairobi). Construction and repair work is going on, the sound of hammers and all this has replaced the sound of guns. I see young men and women walking in the streets of Mogadishu well beyond eight o’clock… to ten o’clock."

Mahiga, however, warned that the capture of Kismayo does not mean the end of Al-Shebab, pointing out that militant activities like "terrorist bombs, devices, suicide bombs, roadside bombs [are] likely to continue."

He predicted warfare might occur in other parts of the state.

Mahiga revealed that two phone calls have already taken place between Somalia's new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon to determine the role of the UN Political Office for Somalia, which he heads. They agreed to begin peacekeeping activities involving every UN agency, fund and program working in the country.

The UN envoy, in a related development, went on to emphasise the need for national reconciliation among Somalia’s numerous socio-political groups, pointing out that Al-Shebab may be more willing to engage in political dialogues as their security and military situation has been affected.

Somalia, which still requires basic humanitarian aid such as food, water and health services, needs to establish law and order by creating military and police services and setting up local and regional administrative structure.

The election of a new president last month, the adoption of a new constitution, and the convening of a new parliament brought fresh hopes to the masses for change.

President Mohamud, a respected lecturer and peace activist, faces the daunting task of putting together a credible government after more than a decade of transitional administrations perceived as corrupt and toothless.

The previous president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed had been confident of re-election. Few predicted Mohamud would be among the main contenders.

Ahmed was a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group of Sharia courts who united themselves to form a rival administration to then-ruling Transitional Federal Government. The ICU overran the country in 2006, giving birth to Al-Shebab group. Sharif's election in January 2009 was seen then as Somalia's best chance in years to end the conflict.

Hard-line Islamists considered Ahmed a traitor and Western powers were reluctant to negotiate with a terror-listed group.

Analysts suggested the new president might be in a better position to broker truly inclusive talks.

Al-Shebab, which has proclaimed its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and continues to wage a deadly campaign against the government and foreign troops in Somalia, dismissed the election process.

Around 20,000 troops from Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Kenya are currently battling Al-Shebab across Somalia.

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