Mogadishu (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon met the president of Somalia, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, under heavy security Wednesday in Mogadishu, his first visit to the dangerous capital of the war-torn nation in almost three years.
Ban, along with World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim, met Mohamud inside the fortified airport zone, guarded by troops from the 22,000-strong UN-backed African Union force, Somalia’s presidency said in a statement.
They were not expected to travel outside the airport’s concrete blast walls, manned by AU machine gunners, into the city itself.
Ban however was dressed in a suit and not the bullet-proof jacket he wore on his last visit to Mogadishu in 2011. At that time, the country was suffering a famine in which over 250,000 people died, half of them children.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab insurgents have in recent months lost swathes of territory and towns to the AU force and Somali government troops, but they remain a potent threat.
This year they have launched attacks in the heart of Mogadishu, including brazen commando raids on the presidential palace and parliament.
Ban’s brief touchdown in Mogadishu follows a visit by UN Security Council ambassadors in August to the city, and comes amid repeated warnings of a humanitarian crisis and a shortfall in funding.
– A million Somalis in crisis –
The UN says over a million Somalis are in conditions close to famine, while over a million have fled their homes due to fighting or hunger inside the country, and another million are living as refugees in the region.
Some 218,000 children under five are acutely malnourished, a rise of seven percent since the beginning of the year, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns.
Despite Shebab fighters pulling out of several towns, OCHA said in its latest report that AU and Somali “military gains are yet to translate into predictable humanitarian access”.
The UN says it has just over a third of the cash it needs, having received $318 million of the $933 million it has appealed for.
The visit also comes amid fierce infighting within the Somali government.
The government, which took power in August 2012, was the first to be given global recognition since the collapse of Somalia’s hardline regime in 1991, and billions in foreign aid has since been poured in.
It was hailed as offering the best chance for peace in a generation, replacing a transitional leadership mired in ineffectiveness and rampant corruption.
But political wrangles and reports of corruption have raised concern the current government, like the last administration, is blighted by infighting and failing to unite in the face of the Shebab threat.
Ban who began a Horn of Africa trip in Ethiopia Monday, has visited Djibouti and will travel onwards to Kenya, leading a delegation from six other international organisations.
The group, including the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), European Union and Islamic Development Bank (IDB), has pledged $8 billion in development aid for eight countries in the region.