Mogadishu (AFP) – Somali soldiers put large parts of the capital Mogadishu under lockdown Friday ahead of the first meeting of a regional east African trade bloc in the war-torn nation for over two decades.
“Security has been tightened because of the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) delegation,” said Daud Aweys, spokesman for the presidential palace, as representatives began to arrive for one of the largest and highest profile meetings seen in Mogadishu for years.
Ministers from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — who have contributed troops to the 22,000-strong African Union force in Somalia — are expected at Saturday’s IGAD talks. Sudan and South Sudan are also believed to be sending representatives.
“The agenda of the meeting includes security, political reconciliation and other key issues,” Aweys added.
Dozens of heavily armed soldiers and police patrolled the streets, where Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab militants regularly carry out bombings and killings.
The Shebab have also carried out attacks in across the wider east African region.
“All roads are closed and movement is almost impossible in Mogadishu,” said Ali Maow, a grocer in the centre of the capital.
“Security forces are blocking the roads, we don’t know how long it will take, there is no civilian transport movement on the main roads,” said Istahil Muhyidin, another resident.
The meeting comes after Somalia’s parliament last month endorsed Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as prime minster, following bitter infighting and a falling out between the president and the previous premier.
The United Nations, United States and European Union — key backers of Somalia’s fragile government — all warned that power struggles were a damaging distraction for the country.