Somalia picks cabinet, balances old guard with newcomers

Sun Nov 4, 2012 3:25pm EST
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By Abdi Sheikh and Omar Faruq

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia unveiled a new cabinet on Sunday, keeping a delicate balance among rival clans as it tries to shake off years of conflict that still plagues the country despite a recent push against al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The formation of the government is the culmination of a regionally brokered, U.N.-backed effort to restore central control and end close to two decades of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people.

In September, Somalia inaugurated President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud - elected in the first vote of its kind since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, leaving the African nation without an effective central government.

Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, chosen by Mohamud because he is untainted by clan rivalry, will have to tackle corruption, the Islamist insurgency and piracy off the coast along strategic Indian Ocean shipping lanes.

"Taking into account the current situation, I have appointed a lean, effective cabinet that can lead the government in this difficult situation and that can bring full, reliable peace," Saaid told reporters and officials at the presidential palace as he unveiled his 10-minister cabinet line-up.

He appointed Fozia Yusuf Haji Aden as foreign minister, the first woman to hold such a senior position. "It is a victory for Somali women," she said.

Somali, Ethiopian and African Union peacekeeping troops have pushed the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents out of the main areas they took over in their five-year-old revolt, encouraging many Somalis to return to rebuild their country. But the militants are still capable of launching attacks in Mogadishu.

Saaid retained three ministers who had served in former President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's transitional government, among them Abdihakim Haji Mohamud Fiqi as the minister for defence.   Continued...

Newly appointed members of Somalia's cabinet stand during the ceremony held at the presidential palace in capital Mogadishu November 4, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Faruk