Mogadishu: At the beginning of the year, armed Islamic extremists held sway over most of Mogadishu.
   
On Friday, this war-scarred capital is secure enough to host the first visit by the UN secretary-general in nearly two decades.
   
Ban Ki-moon announced during a surprise visit to Mogadishu on Friday that the UN will reopen its political offices in this seaside capital, a city heavily scarred by war. The announcement underscored the security progress made by African Union troops in the fight against al-Shabab militants, but also of the need for the UN to more closely monitor the Somali government, which is funded by foreign donors.
   
Ban, who was wearing a dark blue bulletproof vest when he landed, said Somalia is more than just famine and corruption.

"I believe we are now at a critical juncture, a moment of fresh opportunities for the future of Somalia people ... to bring a new measure of stability and possibilities to people's lives," he told a news conference at Mogadishu's presidential palace.
   
Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed called the trip historic and said it proves that progress is being made.
   
Ban said that the UN Political Office for Somalia will relocate to Mogadishu from Nairobi, Kenya in January. He also welcomed the decision by Kenya's Parliament this week to contribute soldiers to the African Union force in Somalia, which is now comprised mostly of Ugandan and Burundian troops.
   
Kenya's military spokesman said on Friday that the country's contribution to the African Union force, approved by Kenya's Parliament on Wednesday, would take overall numbers of
peacekeepers in Somalia above the 12,000 allowed by a UN Security Council mandate. Maj Emmanuel Chirchir said the addition of Kenyan troops to the AU force, currently 9,000 strong, still requires Security Council approval.

(Agencies)