The United States has welcomed the inauguration in Kenya Sunday of a new transitional parliament for Somalia. The East African country has been without a functioning national government for more than a decade.

The United States has strongly supported the East African grouping IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, in its efforts to re-establish a stable government in Somalia.

And in a written statement, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher hailed the IGAD countries, particularly Kenya, for their mediation efforts that led to Sunday's swearing-in of the transitional parliament.

Under a deal painstakingly negotiated in Kenya, Somalia's four major clans were each given 61 seats in the 275-member assembly with the remainder going to smaller factions.

The legislature will have a five-year term and is to select a national president, the first for Somalia since strongman leader Siad Barre was ousted by clan-based factions in 1991 in a coup that plunged the country into chaos.

In his statement, Mr. Boucher said the inauguration of the full assembly is an important step toward the re-establishment of stability and effective, inclusive governance in Somalia.

He said the United States applauds the efforts of the Somali national conference which produced the parliament agreement, and said it calls on all those "who may still challenge the results" to express themselves through peaceful means.

He said the United States urges the new assembly to get on with the task of selecting a president, prime minister and other officials in order to create a democratically-chosen, and representative, transitional government capable of beginning reconciliation and reconstruction.

Somali leaders have been holding talks in Kenya for nearly two years, and signed a peace accord and transitional charter last January.

There have been numerous past attempts to start a constitutional process including a promising effort by Somali elders, businessmen and religious leaders in 2000 that failed when warlords refused to recognize the administration and give up their weapons.

Since the 1991 collapse of central rule, the northwestern part of the country declared itself the independent republic of Somaliland, and the central Puntland region also declared itself autonomous.

The United States never recognized those declarations, but continued contact with various Somali factions through the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.