MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The top US diplomat for Africa made a surprise visit to Somalia yesterday to meet with the transitional government and help shore up a cease-fire in a conflict with Islamist insurgents that has left hundreds dead.
Jendayi Frazer, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Somalia must leave behind its bloody past and focus on national reconciliation to end 16 years of conflict that has dogged the nation and allowed suspected Al Qaeda plotters to hide there.
"Somalia unfortunately has become a haven for terrorists and that continues to be a prime concern of the United States of America," she said at a news conference after meeting President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi.
Frazer is the highest-ranking American envoy to visit since 1993, the year of the notorious downing of two US Black Hawk helicopters -- which was followed by a firefight that killed some 300 Somalis in 12 hours. The United States withdrew a year later.
She was supposed to come to Somalia in January but the trip was called off at the last minute because of security concerns. She flew yesterday to the government stronghold of Baidoa, an agricultural town 155 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, amid extremely tight security. She left for Nairobi without traveling to Mogadishu.
Her unannounced visit came on the sixth day of a fragile cease-fire that halted fighting in the battle-scarred capital that has sent thousands fleeing.
A local human rights group says more than 1,000 civilians were killed or injured in four days of the fighting in Mogadishu between insurgents and Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces using tanks, artillery, and attack helicopters.