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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Kerry meets leaders in Somalia

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia (AP)
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia (AP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry has made an unannounced trip to Somalia in a show of solidarity with a government trying to defeat al-Qaida-allied militants and end decades of war in the African country.

Mr Kerry, the first top US diplomat ever to visit Somalia, arrived at Mogadishu's airport shortly before noon local time today, greeted by Somalia's president and prime minister on the tarmac.

He immediately entered a series of planned meetings that include both of them along with regional leaders and civil society groups.

"This is a very important moment for Somalia," Mr Kerry said. "Great progress has been made, and you have all contributed to that progress... most importantly, obviously, the need to provide your citizens with the safety and security that they want and need.

"We very much look forward to working with you towards building credible elections, towards the building of a national army and towards the ability of Somalia to serve as a model for its ability to rebuild and reclaim its own future," he added.

The trip was made under tight security. Somalia's government only found yesterday that Mr Kerry would join the State Department's top Africa official, Linda Greenfield-Thomas, on the voyage. And the fact that he was only dipping his toe in Somalia, and not venturing past the airport, highlighted just how dangerous and unstable the country remains.

"The next time I come, we have to be able to just walk down-town," Mr Kerry told Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Top of the agenda is the fight against al-Shabab. African forces and US drone strikes have crippled the organisation's leadership in recent years and left the extremists without much of the territory they once controlled or the cash flows needed to reverse their losses.

But as al-Shabab has decentralised, the militants in some ways have become even more dangerous, expanding their activities in Kenya and other neighbouring countries. Last month's massacre at Kenya's Garissa University College killed 148 people, mostly students, and underscored the group's capacity to carry out relatively unsophisticated but extremely deadly terrorist attacks far from its bases of operations.

The Obama administration is banking on Mr Mohamud's government to turn a new page towards democracy and economic development. The US has provided hundreds of millions in military support to build up the army, and is working with Mr Mohamud to try to usher in a broader, more representative government over the next 18 months.

Press Association

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