China to re-open embassy in Somalia after 23-year absence: Beijing

BEIJING (AFP) - China will re-open its embassy in strife-torn Somalia after a 23-year absence, it said on Monday, as Beijing extends its diplomatic and resources push into Africa.

Beijing and Mogadishu established diplomatic ties in 1960, but China withdrew its diplomatic personnel and shut down its mission as the East African country descended into civil war in 1991.

The two maintained diplomatic relations despite the lack of a physical embassy.

Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab fled fixed positions in Mogadishu three years ago, and have since lost most large towns to a 22,000-strong United Nations-backed African Union force, fighting alongside government soldiers.

The country has established its first government and Parliament in 20 years, and Beijing will send a "re-opening group" on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing.

"It is fair to say that Somalia has entered a new age of national reconstruction which presents new development opportunities to the bilateral relations between China and Somalia," Mr Hong said.

The re-opening "signals China's importance to Somalia", he added.

China, the world's second-largest economy, has for years been making diplomatic and economic inroads in Africa as it seeks new markets and sources of raw materials.

It is believed Somalia could have significant oil reserves.

China has become a key investor in several African countries - including war-torn nations such as South Sudan - and in May Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made a four-country tour of the continent.

But Somalia's security situation remains delicate, and extremist fighters still regularly launch guerrilla raids.

At least two people were reported killed Monday and seven wounded when a bomb exploded in a busy Mogadishu market at the start of Islam's holy month of Ramadan.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Shebab have carried out a string of similar bombings, and have vowed to increase attacks during Ramadan.