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British foreign secretary visits Somalia

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:22 AM EST, Thu February 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's the first visit to Somalia by a foreign secretary since 1992, his office says
  • William Hague says his visit is a tribute to improving conditions there
  • Parts of Somalia are controlled by extremists and criminal gangs, his office concedes
  • London is hosting an international conference on Somalia this month

London (CNN) -- British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Somalia's capital Mogadishu Thursday, the Foreign Office announced, saying it was the first trip there by a British foreign secretary since 1992.

A new British ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, also presented his credentials Thursday, the Foreign Office said -- although Britain does not have an embassy in the country.

"The UK is actively seeking to re-open an embassy in Mogadishu as soon as local circumstances permit," the government said in a statement.

Hague called his visit "a sign of Britain's commitment to the people and country of Somalia," while the Foreign Office said it "followed political and security improvements in the region."

But, the Foreign Office acknowledged, "Large parts of Somalia are controlled by extremists and criminal gangs who use it as a base to launch terrorist attacks and kidnappings."

United States special operations forces launched a dramatic raid into Somalia last month to rescue two hostages who had been held since October, American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Thisted.

Hague's visit comes only days after the Somali Islamist militia Al-Shabaab said it was banning the International Committee of the Red Cross from operating in the regions it controls, accusing the organization of distributing expired food.

In a statement on Twitter Monday the group said it "has decided to terminate the contract of #ICRC permanently... Following the repeated distribution of expired food and false accusations," that the organization is hindering food distribution.

Earlier this month the ICRC announced that it was suspending aid intended for up to 1.1 million people in central and southern Somalia because it was being hindered by local authorities.

Jean-Yves Clemenzo, a spokesman for the ICRC, the agency was "are aware of the announcement by Al-Shabaab. We are taking it quite seriously and analyzing the situation."

Al-Shabaab is linked to al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.

Kenya and the African Union have sent troops into Somalia to battle the militia and support the U.N.-backed government.

London is hosting a conference on Somalia later this month, the Foreign Office said.

Hague told Somalia's president, prime minister, and the mayor of Mogadishu "that while Somalia's problems cannot be resolved overnight, the UK hoped that the conference will act as a catalyst for a new, long term international and Somali effort," the Foreign Office said.

The conference, "attended by more than 40 countries and international organizations ... will seek to generate a more effective and concerted international approach outside Somalia that addresses the root causes of the conflict; and a new political process inside Somalia that meets the needs of all Somalis," Hague said.

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