NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday she was encouraged by progress that Somali leaders have made in trying to re-establish a viable central government in the East African nation where an al-Qaida-linked insurgency group still partly rules.
With the U.N. mandate for Somalia's current government expiring Aug. 20, and leaders set to vote on a new constitution, Clinton met with members of the transitional government and regional officials.
She spoke of the work needed "to support the new government and to provide the kind of international sustainability that the people of Somalia so deserve so they can have the opportunity for a peaceful future with prosperity and development for the betterment" of all Somalis.
"We are very encouraged by the progress that the leaders have been making to meet all the requirements of the road map" by the Aug. 20 deadline, Clinton said before talks with Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and others.
Somali leaders voted Wednesday to approve a constitution that provides for individual rights and sets a course for a more powerful and representative government after two decades of near anarchy. Before the vote there were to big blasts at the gates of the meeting site in Mogadishu, the capital, from a failed suicide attack.
Militants from the hardline Islamist group al-Shabab were pushed out of the seaside capital last year, but still can infiltrate Mogadishu and rule south-central Somalia.
The constitution, eight years in the making, makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia's legal foundation. The U.N. hopes to make the transition to a more representative form of government, but nationwide or even regional elections appear to be years away.
Somalia has not had a powerful central government since 1991, when the president was killed and the country collapsed into chaos.
Earlier, Clinton stressed to Kenyan leaders the importance of fair and free elections, and encouraged the country to be a "model for the entire world." She urged them to avoid a repeat of the 2007 presidential election, which resulted in widespread violence, when national voting is held next year.
After a meeting with Supreme Court Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Clinton said the U.S. has pledged to assist Kenyans and their government to ensure "the upcoming elections are free, fair, and transparent."
"We urge that the nation come together and prepare for elections that will be a real model for the entire world," Clinton said.
She also met with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
The International Criminal Court has ordered four prominent Kenyans, including two potential 2013 presidential candidates, to stand trial for allegedly orchestrating a deadly wave of violence after the 2007 election.
Among the four suspects sent for trial were Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and former Education Minister William Ruto.
Kenyatta is the son of Kenya's founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, and the country's richest citizen with a personal fortune of half a billion dollars. Ruto is a former ally of Odinga, but the two had a falling-out, partly over Ruto's insistence on making his own presidential bid.
More than 1,000 people were killed in postelection violence in Kenya after police ejected observers from the center where votes were being tallied and the electoral body declared Kibaki the winner.
Two of those ordered to stand trial are Kibaki supporters, while the other two backed his rival in the presidential race, Odinga. Odinga was later appointed prime minister in a power-sharing government.
Clinton arrived in Kenya from Uganda on Saturday and is on the fourth leg of an 11-day tour of Africa. The trip began in Senegal and will take her next to Malawi and South Africa.