Ban ki moon: Somalia committed to reconciliation, but hurdles ahead
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday lauded the resolve of Somali leaders and people to press ahead with reconciliation efforts despite the numerous challenges encountered by the Horn of Africa nation.

The recent expansion of the Parliament and the peaceful election of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed are "clearly testimony of the commitment of the parties to move forward with national reconciliation," Ban wrote in his latest report on Somalia, made public at United Nations on Wednesday.

He said he is "pleased" that the new Somali leader has stated that he plans to reach out to groups opposed to the UN-brokered Djibouti process, and he urged "all the people of Somalia to embrace the spirit of forgiveness and compromise and put the past behind them for the sake of peace and reconciliation."

But the secretary-general noted the many challenges ahead for the war-torn nation which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

?"The simmering conflict between the forces of peace and those opposed to peace is just one example of those hurdles," he said in the report, adding that the instability caused by hostilities, abductions and fear continue to hinder delivery of vital humanitarian aid.

A January UN analysis found that more than three million people in Somalia, a third or more of the total population, will remain dependent on humanitarian assistance this year.

The new report also commended the international community's response to combating piracy off the Somali coast, calling on donors to help fund a Joint Security Force and effective government mechanisms to help fight the continuing threat posed by the scourge.

Meanwhile, Ban noted that among the aims of the UN's comprehensive strategy for Somalia is to help the African Union Mission there (AMISOM) reach its authorized full strength of 8,000troops and police personnel, and give Somali security institutions the capacity to create a level of security to enable the Djibouti peace process.

The UN Security Council has yet to decide whether to deploy a multidimensional UN peacekeeping operation that would take over from AMISOM, and "there remains uncertainty about whether peacekeeping is the right tool to support the political process in Somalia," Ban said.

He said he will put forth by next month recommendations on developing the mandate for a UN force, including assisting the flow of humanitarian aid, monitoring a ceasefire and assisting "in supporting the effective re-establishment and training of inclusive Somali security forces, including military, police and judiciary," as requested by Security Council Resolution 1863.

The "follow-on" UN force is subject, however, to a further decision of the Security Council, to be taken by June 1, 2009, according to that resolution.