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Al-Shebab attack thwarted as Somali political talks continue

Somali traders sell vegetables at a market as Muslims prepare for the fasting month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Security forces in Somalia on Thursday shot dead four al-Shebab insurgents during an attempted suicide attack on a political conference.

More than 400 local politicians, leaders and clan elders were meeting in the central town of Adado to discuss the formation of a regional government when the gunmen tried to storm the building.

One insurgent detonated a bomb, blowing himself up, in a bid to breach the gates, but Halimo Ismail Yarey, a key organiser of the conference, said all those at the meeting were safe.

The attack comes at the start of Islam's holy month of Ramadan, a time in which the affiliated group Al-Qaeda often intensify attacks.

Al-Shebab are fighting to overthrow the country's internationally-backed government, and issued a warning to participants of the conference stating they would attack.

This conference is attempting to form an Interim Administration for the Central Regions (IACR), and it is hoped that having regional power centres will gain the political support of a broader range of the population, ideally fostering a more stable peace and perhaps even make politicians more accountable.

Associate Fellow of the Africa Programme at London-based think tank Chatham House, Jason Mosely, told RFI this federal project is the “framework in which most serious politics will happen now” and called it a “marked shift” in Somali politics.

Mosely stressed the role of foreign intervention in making this political process possible saying “their intervention is critical to the security landscape.”

This external intervention in the form of humanitarian organisations and the presence of African Union peacekeeping forces has had a real impact on the ground.

In 2011, a famine killed over 260,000 people, but thanks in part to increased security food availability has improved dramatically. The World Food Programme’s spokesperson for Somalia, Laila Ali, told RFI things have been improving but stressed that “nearly 1 million people in Somalia still require food assistance”.

Oxfam’s acting country director, Ed Pomfret, said this stability is filtering through in parts of the country. He told RFI “there’s a lot more confidence. Entrepreneurs are coming back. The diaspora’s coming back.”

He went on to say that the western media “stereotypes Somalia as a place full of terrorists and pirates, hunger and disaster” but that on the ground he sees Somalis “taking tremendous actions to improve the lives of their families and broader communities.”