British FM in surprise visit to Mogadishu

Britain appoints first ambassador to Somalia in 21 years, as William Hague pledges support for summit in London.

     Hague's visit comes before a London summit aimed at resolving threat posed by al-Qaeda fighters and pirates [AFP]

    William Hague, Britain's foreign minister, has paid a surprise visit to Mogadishu to pledge support for the forthcoming Somali summit in London as it appoints the first Somali ambassador since 1991.

    Hague - the most senior UK official to visit the war-torn Somali capital in two decades - arrived on Thursday, and met Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Somali president, at the presidential palace.

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    He also appointed Matt Baugh as Britain's first ambassador to Somalia in 21 years.

    Britain considers Somalia a "direct threat" to its security, over fears British nationals have joined the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, who are fighting to topple the weak UN-backed transitional government.

    Security was tightened in Mogadishu, a city that has been battered by a deadly uprising, with al-Shabab fighters launching waves of grenade attacks and suicide bombers against the government.

    Hague's surprise visit comes ahead of a London conference due on February 23 aimed at resolving the protracted crises in the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

    Britain's Foreign Office says the event "aims to bring together leaders of key partner countries and organisations ... to help galvanise a common approach to address the problems and challenges of Somalia that affect us all."

    This includes tackling the issues of extremism and the "underlying causes of instability and conflict in Somalia".

    Tackling 'terror'

    Piracy and how best to tackle "the terrorist threat emanating from Somalia" will also top the agenda, as will the humanitarian crisis resulting from conflict and drought.

    Somali forces and AU troops have launched a new offensive against al-Shabab fighters [Al Jazeera]

    Hague's visit follows that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, in August, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon's in December, the first by a UN secretary-general in 18 years.

    Somalia has been without an effective central government since the 1991 ouster of president Siad Barre, and the government in Mogadishu is supported by a 10,000-strong African Union (AU) force from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

    Al-Shabab fighters control large parts of central and southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies.

    Armies from neighbouring countries are converging on al-Shabab - Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopia's army in the south and west, and the AU troops in Mogadishu.

    The UN says Somalia is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with three areas hit by famine and nearly 250,000 people facing starvation.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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