By Mohamed Ali Bile
JOWHAR, Somalia, June 21 (Reuters) - Somalia's fledgling government has set up base in the city of Jowhar until security is restored to the capital Mogadishu, the prime minister said on Tuesday.
The interim government, formed in the relative security of neighbouring Kenya late last year, has repeatedly postponed plans to return to Somalia, citing lawlessness following 14 years without a central authority.
A row over whether the government should be installed in Mogadishu, or the provincial towns of Jowhar and Baidoa had caused a major split in the government, further contributing to the delays.
But, Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi who arrived in Jowhar on Saturday with several ministers, said the government had begun to install itself in the city 90 kms (56 miles) north of Mogadishu.
"My government has finally moved to Somalia. Jowhar is our base until when Mogadishu is pacified," Gedi told Reuters in Nairobi by telephone.
He said there was no intention of changing the capital of the Horn of Africa country of about 10 million from Mogadishu, Somalia's single most dangerous place. Somalia's interim constitution stipulates that it must be the capital, and the government has established a liaison office there.
MOGADISHU IS CAPITAL
"Mogadishu is our capital, but its security is not good," Gedi said from Jowhar, where he attended a ceremony to mark the expansion of the city's airport on Tuesday..
President Abdullahi Yusuf was expected to arrive in Somalia later this week after a visit to Yemen to discuss peacekeeping forces in Somalia.
Residents in Jowhar said business is booming in the city along Shabelle River, known for its fertile farmlands.
The airport is being expanded to accommodate bigger planes. Property prices have jumped since government officials began discussing a relocation there.
"A villa that was going for $50, now costs $500," said businessman Haji Hussein. "This is because people from all regions have come to Jowhar since the government moved in on Saturday."
"Food prices have gone down as demand has increased. Things will be much better once the president settles in Jowhar. People are ready to hand over their weapons as they have realised the value of peace," he added.
Somalia was plunged into civil war after warlords overran the country and ousted military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Conflicts and famine have killed hundreds of thousands ever since.
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