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US re-opens embassy in Somali capital amid persisting Islamist violence

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been gripped by widespread lawlessness and violence since 1991 when autocrat Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by various warlords.

Bystanders gather at the site of a suicide car bomb explosion which targeted a European Union vehicle convoy in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 30 September 2019. Picture: AFP.

MOGADISHU - The United States announced on Wednesday it had re-opened its embassy in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, nearly three decades after it was shut down, underscoring deepening ties between the two nations amid persisting threats from Islamist group al-Shabaab.

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been gripped by widespread lawlessness and violence since 1991 when autocrat Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by various warlords.

The United States closed its embassy in January 1991.

In a statement, the US embassy to Somalia said the move was a milestone in the strengthening of relations between the two countries and would help advance stability and development in Somalia.

“It is a significant and historic day that reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years,” the US ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto, was quoted as saying.

The embassy, he said, would act “to enhance cooperation, advance US national strategic interests, and support our overall security, political, and economic development.”

The re-opening of the embassy builds on the re-establishment of a permanent US diplomatic presence in Mogadishu last year.

A US State Department official told Reuters on Wednesday the United States was already Somalia’s biggest donor. In 2018 Somalia received $730 million worth of aid from Washington, the official said.

Al-Qaeda-allied al Shabaab group remains a potent threat to Somalia’s internationally recognized central government, frequently carrying out bomb and gun attacks against Somali military and other targets.

On Monday, the group’s fighters mounted an ambitious attack on a base where US special forces train Somali commandos and also hit an Italian military convoy in a separate blast in Mogadishu.

On Wednesday, two roadside bombs exploded at different locations in the outskirts of Mogadishu as convoys of Somali soldiers passed.

“The earth was shaken by a big blast and gunfire followed,” shopkeeper Nur Abdullahi told Reuters from Elasha town northwest of Mogadishu, where one of the bombs went off.

It was not clear whether any deaths had occurred in the two blasts as security officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the two blasts and said it had killed 12 soldiers, although the group often states death tolls that are different from those by the government and other authorities.

Al-Shabaab says it is fighting to drive out of Somalia all foreign forces including the African Union AU-mandated AMISOM peacekeeping force and then establish its own government-run according to Islam’s sharia law.

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