Foreign ministers of six East African nations plan to meet in Kenya this week to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Somalia.

The officials will meet on Thursday and Friday in Nairobi to lay the groundwork for a reconciliation conference on Somalia.

No date has been set for the conference, but east Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development has said it wants to convene the meeting before the end of March.

This week's Nairobi talks will bring together the foreign ministers of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. No Somali factions have been invited.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991. Clan leaders and militias have carved up the impoverished country, which also has been ravaged by drought and famine.

A Transitional National Government was formed in August 2000 after a peace conference in Djibouti. It is virtually bankrupt and has little authority outside parts of the capital, Mogadishu. However, it does occupy Somalia's seat at the United Nations.

Two semi-autonomous regions also are seeking international recognition, Puntland in the northeast, and Somaliland in the northwest. The south is dominated by a faction called the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council, which rejects the Mogadishu government.

Such anarchy has fueled fears that Islamic terrorists could shift their operations to Somalia following the collapse of the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan.

The United States has been keeping a watchful eye on Somalia in the aftermath of September's terrorist attacks. U.S. and European navies patrol the coast of Somalia. The United States also has shut down a Somali money transfer company accused of links to al-Qaida.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon has recently visited Kenya, and the U.S. military is currently on joint maneuvers with the Kenyan armed forces near the border with Somalia. However, U.S. and British officials deny any connection between these events and the situation in Somalia.