The United Nations special envoy to Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, has embarked on a seven-nation tour "to ease tensions" in the Horn of Africa due to the crisis in Somalia.
With tensions particularly high between Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the expanding Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), Fall, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Somalia, began his regional tour in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, on Tuesday to urge restraint among neighbouring states.
"I decided to start a regional tour because of the very tense situation in Somalia and the region," Fall said from Addis Ababa. "One of the aims of my mission is to ease tensions in the region because the Somali crisis has regional repercussions."
In Addis Ababa, Fall met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the commissioner for peace and security of the African Union (AU), Saïd Djinnit.
"We talked about the security problems within Somalia and its repercussions for the region, the problems of dialogue and the deployment of an international force in Somalia," Fall said after the talks, adding that he would raise these issues over the whole trip.
Fall was to travel to the Eritrean capital of Asmara on Wednesday before heading to Djibouti, Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen for consultations with their leaders, in line with the recommendations of a Security Council presidential statement of 13 July.
Ethiopia’s relationship with Somalia has been very tense over the past weeks, as the Ethiopian government supports the TFG and is accused of sending troops to protect it. Ethiopia has denied it has any troops in Somalia.
Fall said he hoped for a continuation of Arab League peace talks between Somalia's interim government and the UIC.
"Among the most critical issues on Ambassador Fall’s agenda is the third round of the Khartoum peace talks scheduled for 30 October between the Transitional Federal Institutions, based in Baidoa, and the UIC established in Mogadishu," the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) said in a statement.
The last round of talks between the rivals took place early in August.
Since then, the UIC has taken control of more towns in the south without any fighting, including two this week.
"They [UIC forces] came into Afmadow yesterday [Tuesday] and were welcomed by a large crowd," Hassan Mursal, a resident, said on Wednesday.
He said the force of about 400 men, with 15 technicals (battlewagons) met no resistance. "The militia that was here just put away their guns and joined the crowds," he added.
The UIC's head of communication and information, Abdirahim Ali Mudey, said UIC forces were in Afmadow and in Bu'ale, respectively 120 km west and 249 km north of the port city of Kismayo.
The UIC has been extending its authority to other areas of southern Somalia; much to the chagrin of the TFG, a fledgling administration set up in 2004 after reconciliation talks in Kenya between Somalia's various clans and political factions.
Somalia has been without a functioning central government since the late president, Muhammad Siad Barre, was toppled in 1991.