"This will be a wonderful opportunity for the Somali leaders to  demonstrate to the international community their strong commitment  and determination to restore peace and stability to Somalia."

Mortar attack

Hostilities continue in Mogadishu, the capital, between pro- and anti-government forces.

A mortar shell exploded near an aircraft carrying Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the president, as it was preparing to take off from Mogadishu airport, officials and witnesses said.

Yusuf was headed to Djibouti for the peace talks.

According to an African Union peacekeeper at the airport, three shells struck the airport and one exploded near the aircraft on Sunday.

Hussein Mohamed Mohamud, the presidential spokesman, said the attack was not an assassination attempt.

He said the fighters "tried to disrupt the president's departure to Djibouti but they failed".

'Crucial talks'

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from the east African nation, said: "These talks are considered extremely crucial to the future of Somalia, and whether or not this long-running conflict can be resolved."

African Union peacekeepers have also
been the target of attacks [AFP]
He said the Islamic Courts' Union and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) continue to be at odds over the conditions to bring peace to the country.

"The Islamic Courts' Union, and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, their allies, demand the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.
 
"If the TFG does not accept this, they believe that there is no point to these discussions," Adow said.

A first round of discussions on May 16 ended without direct talks between the rivals, but the move was seen as a breakthrough in efforts to end a conflict which has seen at least 6,000 civilians die in fighting over the past year, according to international rights groups and aid agencies.

Christian Balslev-Olesen, a Unicef representative to Somalia, told Al Jazeera that both sides need to commit to a political agreement in order for the humanitarian situation to improve.

He said: "A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Somalia, and political progress needs to be made. Both sides need to commit to an agreement that will allow humanitarian aid to come to those that need it."

"Political progress is a precondition to obtaining humanitarian assistance. The Somali people need feel this progress, there cannot be a gap to what is agreed and what the reality is on the ground."
 
Push for 'lasting peace'
 
The negotiations are to receive a boost on Monday with the visit of a delegation from the UN Security Council, which will be touring Africa over the coming week.

Ambassadors from all 15 member nations plan to visit several countries on the continent.
 
However, their main priority is to push for lasting peace in Somalia and Sudan.

The African Union (AU), which has around 2,600 peacekeepers deployed in Somalia, also lent its support to the Djibouti talks.
  
The AU's Peace and Security Council said in a statement issued on Friday it had "encouraged the parties to pursue their efforts in a spirit of compromise and mutual accommodation in order to promote national  reconciliation and lasting peace in Somalia".

It also urged Somali factions that have so far shunned the process to participate in the negotiations.

While some Islamist leaders and influential clan leaders have joined the discussions, other Islamist opposition leaders claim the mediation was biased and continued to demand an Ethiopian withdrawal before talks can start.