UN to return to Somalia within two months

The United Nations and foreign missions and organisations will move back inside Somalia within two months after an absence of more than 17 years, a senior UN official said on Sunday.

Most embassies, foreign charitable organisations and the United Nations itself have been based in Nairobi because of security concerns in most of Somalia and near-daily gun battles and mortar attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.

The UN left Somalia in 1993 and most embassies withdrew years earlier.

Augustine Mahiga, the UN special representative for the Horn of Africa country, said a decision to relocate senior staff to Somalia had been taken by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The organisation also hoped to establish presences in the breakaway Somali republic of Somaliland and the semi-autonomous enclave of Puntland, he said.

“We are going to transfer embassies and agencies based in Nairobi to Somalia, and our targets are three. First is Puntland, second is Somaliland and third is Mogadishu,” Mahiga told a news a conference attended by Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke at the UN headquarters in Nairobi.

He said the move would take place within 60 days and the UN was recruiting staff in Somalia and Nairobi in preparation.

An increase in the African Union peace force in Somalia to 8 100 would improve security for the move, he added.

The AU boosted its troop numbers in Somalia after 76 people were killed in Uganda last month in suicide attacks by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab.

Increasing the strength of Amisom force from 6 200 to the overall of 8 100 will improve and enhance security to create space for the deployment of United Nations and the international community,” Mahiga said.

The Tanzanian diplomat said the UN Support Office for Amisom is already completing 14 facilities that could accommodate staff at a safe zone near Mogadishu airport.

There was still a security risk in Mogadishu, he said, “and we are going to take much more cautious approach, but the decision to deploy there is being made”.

He said some countries, agencies and partner programmes were already established in parts of Somalia.

The Somali government has been urging the agency to reconsider its withdrawal for some time.

Somalia has had no effective central authority since 1991, and its Transitional Federal Government controls only a small section of the capital.

It is seen by human rights groups as the worst place in Africa for humanitarian workers, journalists and activists who have been targeted in the past three year by militant groups.

Last year, al Shabaab expelled UN agencies and international organisations from the southern and central Somalia which it controlled, accusing them of espionage and looting their premises and seizing computers. - Reuters

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