Somali politicians attending a summit in Kenya next week have a great chance to push forward a peace process intended to stem 18 years of conflict but which is so far having little impact on the ground, a U.N. envoy said.
Ministers and heads of state from east African bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday and Wednesday. They have invited Somali legislators and others to attend for consultations.
That has prompted talk in diplomatic circles that the Somali government may be persuaded to invite moderate opposition members into its administration.
There has also been speculation the government may move to Nairobi, where it was first formed, due to insurgent attacks in Mogadishu and Baidoa, the seat of parliament.
U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who has been brokering talks between the government and the moderate wing of the opposition Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), said any moves towards reconciliation would be welcome.
"I would be very happy at any progress," he said in an interview late on Thursday. "If there is a government of national unity, whether here or anywhere else, Somalis first will be very happy with it, and we will also be very happy."
Ould-Abdallah was flying on Friday to Djibouti to meet representatives of the government and ARS who signed a tentative peace plan there earlier this year.
"We will do the best we can in Djibouti to encourage the success of peace in Somalia and support the summit," he said.
Hardline opponents of the Western-backed government that is defended in Somalia by Ethiopian troops, have vowed never to countenance a deal until Addis Ababa withdraws its soldiers.
Islamist insurgents have stepped up their attacks on government and Ethiopian targets in recent months.
"I am not surprised by this violence. I think it will go on for a while. But those who have signed are determined to go ahead, and they have the strong backing of the international community," Ould-Abdallah said.
"Whether former Yugoslavia, whether Liberia or others, every agreement is followed by waves of violence because the spoilers, and their sponsors, political and financial, are telling them, go ahead and everything will collapse."
He said the limited progress so far was a "miracle" in the context of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
"We have them signing together, travelling together to Stockholm. They have been meeting the Security Council together, they were in South Africa together. To me this is a miracle.
"Everyone would like to load the boat, bring in more people. No, we are going at our own pace, taking into account 18 years of violence and destruction."
The envoy welcomed recent international action to stem a wave of piracy off Somalia, including sending more ships into the region to patrol waters and possibly strike at gangs holding about a dozen ships and 200 hostages.
"I am very happy that Somalis now are taking it seriously, and also the international community … The decision by the European Union and NATO to send in navy ships is welcomed.
"It will take time. But it is not free piracy anymore … It is not impunity on the sea."