Rep. Keith Ellison sees optimism in Somalia visit

Somali women
This photo provided by Rep. Keith Ellison's office shows Somali women welcoming the congressman to Mogadishu. Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Ellison gave a joint press conference at Mogadishu airport, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013. Ellison said that his visit to Mogadishu fulfills a request from his constituents with ties to Somalia, as Minnesota has one of the largest populations of Somali-Americans in the U.S.
Photo courtesy the office of Rep. Keith Ellison

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison visited Somalia's capital city of Mogadishu on Tuesday, the first visit in years by a member of Congress to what until recently was considered one of the world's most dangerous cities.

Mogadishu has experienced about 18 months of relative peace, after the August 2011 ouster of the Islamic extremists of al-Shabab from the capital by African Union forces.

"The United States just recognized the government after 22 years," Ellison said this morning by phone. "Recognition sets the stage for diplomatic exchange and things like that. You know, the people feel like the future is bright."

Ellison said the threat from the al-Shabab terrorist group that had plagued the country is receding.

"Al-Shabab is definitely on the run," Ellison added. "They have been pushed out of Mogadishu, they have been pushed out of Kismayo, which is another very large city. And they have been relegated to the rural areas in the southern part of the country. They are not out, but they are down."

Mohamud, Ellison
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, left, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison give a joint press conference at Mogadishu airport, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013. Ellison said Tuesday that his visit to Mogadishu fulfills a request from his constituents with ties to Somalia, as Minnesota has one of the largest populations of Somali-Americans in the U.S.
AP Photo

Ellison said he me with Somali officials to discuss the difficulty of getting money from refugees in the U.S. -- remittances -- back to Somalia. The U.S. has restricted money transfers, for fear it could fall into the hands of Al Shabab.

"We're very correctly trying to stop financing getting to Al Shabab," Ellison said. "But our policy may -- well, for sure it's hurting a lot people who have nothing to do with Al Shabab."

Ellison traveled to Somalia with the nonprofit American Refugee Committee, which is based in his district, which is home to one of the largest Somali communities in the U.S. He's visiting Nairobi, Kenya, today.

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