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The countries setting up embassies generally are using different buildings from the ones they once occupied - whole neighborhoods were destroyed or damaged in the fighting - and they are patrolled by armed guards.

Open for tourists, business

Robert Young Pelton, author of “The World’s Most Dangerous Places,” said al-Shabab-held Somali cities such as Merca and Kismayo, where some of the foreign fighters associated with al Qaeda have fled, are more dangerous than Mogadishu.

One major goal is to transform Somali government troops in Mogadishu into a professional force that provides security instead of being a threat. Government troops are receiving training in Uganda, but many go months without pay and some remain a danger to Somalia’s civilians.

An Associated Press journalist last week witnessed a Somali soldier at a security checkpoint shoot a woman twice in the leg with little provocation.

Underscoring Mogadishu’s transformation, massive amounts of construction materials are being shipped to its port. Deputy port commander Ahmed Abdi Karie noted that a house on a small plot of land in downtown Mogadishu that a year ago sold for $20,000 now goes for $100,000.

“I keep saying Mogadishu is open for business. Reconstruction is at an incredible level,” said Killian Kleinschmidt, the U.N.’s deputy humanitarian coordinator for Mogadishu, who relocated to the Somali capital earlier this year.

Soccer and basketball teams and a nascent arts scene have returned. Beachside restaurants serving lobster have opened. Many of Mogadishu’s buildings still bear the scars of war, their stone facades bullet-riddled and their walls blown out.

But the Somali government spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, argues that Mogadishu is now safer than Baghdad or Kabul. A tourism minister may even be appointed soon to attract tourists to the city.

“Mogadishu is no longer the world’s most dangerous city. It’s on the peace path now,” he said. “We are working on making it safe for foreigners to work here as well.”

Somalia’s defense minister, Hussein Arab Isse, returned to Mogadishu last year after 30 years of living in the Oakland, Calif., area.

He says Somalia’s leaders know they must put aside two decades of divisions and work together to elect a new parliament, president and prime minister before Aug. 20, when the U.N. mandate that created the current transitional government expires.

The returning diaspora, he said, is proof that Somalis believe in a brighter future.

‘They want to come back’

“They’re all returning because people, they want to come back and they’ve had enough of living abroad and they’re investing their money. And that gives you confidence,” Mr. Isse said. “A year ago, no one was talking about investing their hard-earned money in Somalia. Property is skyrocketing in value, and that’s good.”

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