Somali reconciliation talks open in Mogadishu
Key Somali politicians gathered on Sunday in Mogadishu at the start of a three-day conference focused on national reconciliation and the creation of a stable federal government for the war-torn country, DPA reported.
The talks, sponsored by the United Nations and heavily guarded by African Union peacekeepers, brings together officials from the weak transitional federal government and authorities from several autonomous areas.
Ahead of the conference, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed paid a rare visit to the breakaway region of Puntland, trying to relink the strategic area with Mogadishu.
The first major meeting in Mogadishu in at least four years will seek to wrap up the transitional period of the current cabinet and parliament and bring about a more stable federal authority within the next year that can be effective across the whole of Somalia.
The UN and Somalia governmental officials hope the parties will also begin the work on drafting a new national constitution and setting the framework for elections to take place.
"The peace process has entered a new phase," UN Special Representative for Somalia Augustine Mahiga said ahead of the conference.
"The fact that this meeting is being held both in Mogadishu and with the participation of a number of major transitional administrations is hugely significant," Mahiga said.
Not attending the conference were representatives of Somaliland, a breakaway part of northern Somalia seeking full sovereignty, and envoys of al-Shabaab, the Islamist militia which was ousted from the capital last month, but still maintains strongholds in the country's south.
Somalia has been without a fully functioning central government that could extend its authority nationwide in 20 years of civil war.
The efforts to end the political crisis comes amid worsening drought and famine in the country, where over 3 million people are reported to be in need of humanitarian assistance and hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries, to escape violence and hunger.
UN officials say that on Monday they will likely announce a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Somalia.