Somali President in Capital for Consultations

By Cathy Majtenyi
Nairobi
08 January 2007 

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Somalia's president Monday arrived in the capital Mogadishu to hold consultations with representatives from religious, civil society, business and other groups. Somalia's foreign minister says the meetings are, in part, to pave the way for the government to move its base from Baidoa to Mogadishu. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

This is the first time Abdullahi Yusuf stepped into the capital since he took office more than two years ago.

Until now, he and other members of the transitional government, commonly known as the TFG, cited security concerns as being the main reason why the government chose to be based in Baidoa, rather than Mogadishu.

But, says Somali foreign affairs minister Esmael Mohamud Hurreh, things are different at this time.

"It [Yusuf's visit] is a very symbolic and very important move. It symbolizes that a president of the TFG is moving into Mogadishu. There has been an absence of governance in Mogadishu for a long period, and I think this signals the end of the absence of governance in Mogadishu."

Sources tell VOA the reason for Yusuf's visit to Mogadishu was to soothe tensions between the Hawiya and Darod clans, in part arising from the government's disarmament exercise.

The historical rivalry between the two clans was exacerbated in recent months with the Hawiya clan said to support the Islamic Courts Union and the Darod clan said to back the transitional government.

Foreign Minister Hurreh denies that the president is there primarily to ease clan tensions.

He said, "The purpose of the visit is to make clear to anybody that the TFG has got every intention of moving into the capital."

Until about two weeks ago, the capital was controlled by militiamen from the Islamic Courts Union, which rose to power in the middle of last year and took control over much of southern Somalia.

During two weeks of air raids and combat fighting at the end of December, the Islamists abandoned areas they held as Ethiopian-backed government troops advanced.

Now, the government and officials from the International Contact Group on Somalia among others are looking for ways to move forward, including holding reconciliation talks with a cross-section of Somalis, sending in a peacekeeping force, reducing the number of guns, and developing the country.

But the capital is still volatile. There were reports of gunmen firing on Ethiopian forces Sunday following anti-Ethiopian protests in which two people died.