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Somali FM Says Peace and Security New Government's Top Priority

Somalia's foreign minister told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the new transitional federal government's first priority is to establish peace and security in the Horn-of-Africa country. Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar said the government, which was sworn-in just one month ago, is focused on its first 100 days in office.

Minister Omaar told the 15-member Security Council that peace and security in his country can only be achieved through dialogue, negotiation, the will for compromise and reconciliation. "The people of Somalia and the international community have paid a high price to reach this point, and we see it as the moment of truth."

He said the new government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is ready to negotiate, but that it will only do so "across the table. The gun must be put away."

He said in the four weeks since the president and his government took power, they have moved the government back to Mogadishu, and taken the first steps to laying the foundation for its program of peace and reconciliation.

Omaar said those steps include the integration of the government forces and those of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) into the Joint Security forces. "This has been successful and effective in the rebuilding of national security forces that are both essential to the establishment of peace and security within the country as well as the means for reconciliation within the priority sector of the state institutions," he said.

He said the government has also moved to re-establish its authority over Mogadishu's two main sea and air ports, in order to create new sources of internal revenue for the government.

But despite a new momentum towards national reconciliation and an end to the clan wars that have plagued the country, Omaar acknowledged that there are still major challenges facing the new government -- including spoilers to the peace process and the piracy epidemic off Somalia's coast.

There is also a serious humanitarian crisis. The U.N. estimates that more than three million Somalis are in need of humanitarian assistance due to conflict and drought. Providing that aid is not always easy - last year, 34 aid workers were killed and 26 others abducted.

But the U.N.'s top envoy for Somalia welcomed the glimmer of hope offered by the new government, saying Somalia is a country "that is back from the brink." Ahmedou Ould -Abdullah urged the international community to take practical action in turning these modest gains into real and sustainable progress.

Security council members were also cautiously optimistic, saying recent events present an opportunity for real progress in Somalia.

Next month, the U.N. Security Council will hear a report from the secretary-general on whether the conditions exist for authorizing a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia to replace the 3,400-strong African Union force that is currently there. Minister Omaar said his government would welcome such a move.