Britain has become the first Western nation to open a new embassy in Somalia, 22 years after the country's spiralling civil war forced the last British ambassador to flee.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, made a surprise visit to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to raise the Union Flag above the cluster of four small metal pre-fabricated cabins ringed by blast walls.
The embassy will be expanded but is currently sited within Mogadishu's international airport complex, where the African Union headquarters its troops and where most foreign missions and companies are located. Matt Baugh, the new ambassador, and his senior staff will continue to be based in neighbouring Kenya, but will rotate through the new station for up to two weeks at a time.
Somalia had undergone a "dramatic shift" in recent months, Mr Hague said, with al-Qaeda fighters pushed out of all major cities and the new Somali government reaching ever deeper into territory formerly held by the Islamists.
Countering piracy and terrorism, providing aid and supporting British interests in Somalia would be priorities for the new embassy, he added. "Today's opening is testament both to the strength of the UK-Somalia bilateral relationship and to the UK government's commitment to work with the Federal Government of Somalia as they rebuild their country after two decades of conflict," Mr Hague said.
"Somalia has been through a dramatic shift over the last year but continues to face huge challenges. "We should be under no illusions as to the sustained efforts that will be required, in Somalia and from its international partners, to ensure that Somalia continues to make progress.
Britain joins Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran and Turkey with permanent missions in the country. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, will in May host the second Somalia Conference in London, to coordinate international efforts to boost the Somali government's attempts to cement progress.
Mr Hague met Hassan Sheikh, the Somali president, and Abdi Farah Shirdon, the prime minister, to discuss the conference. "Most of your counterparts around the world have not yet visited Somalia, so I am particularly delighted to see you here again on your second visit," Mr Shirdon said.
Mr Hague previously visited Mogadishu in February 2012, the first Foreign Secretary to do so since Somalia's civil war erupted in 1991. The old British embassy lies in ruins near Mogadishu's sea port, an area of the city still considered too unsafe for most foreigners to visit or work in without significant armed escorts. via Telegraph