Soon after his arrival in the Somali capital Mogadishu late last month, new Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein ordered the release of some of the prominent opposition leaders being held by the government - a move hailed as a goodwill gesture and part of the new administration's wider strategy toward national reconciliation.
Since his nomination for the post in mid-November 2007, Hussein has repeated his commitment to negotiating with all opposition groups, whether they are the myriad armed insurgent groups fighting the government troops and foreign forces in the country, particularly Ethiopian troops, or the alliance of opposition politicians based in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
The new government has on many occasions called on the opposition to join talks with the government and cease attacks on Somali and foreign forces targets. But opposition forces have refused, repeating their demands that all foreign forces be withdrawn from Somalia before any talks with the transitional federal government, which the opposition does not recognize as legitimate.
Having fled to Asmara, the opposition coalition is composed largely of two groups: renegade Somali parliamentarians who opposed the arrival of Ethiopian troops in Somalia and were fired as a result; and the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamist movement that had been in control in much of southern and central Somalia before Ethiopian troops arrived in late 2006 (fearing the rise of Islamist-nationalist movement could spark new calls for the reunion of Ogaden, a Somali-speaking region in eastern Ethiopia, with Somalia proper).
Many in Somalia consider the Ethiopian presence in Somalia as an invasion by an historic enemy country because the two countries fought two wars over the disputed Ogaden region. They technically have been at war since the 1977 border conflict as no conclusive solution has been reached on the issue.
A UN Security Council resolution early last year authorized an 8,000-strong African Union (AU) peacekeeping force to replace the Ethiopian troops currently deployed in the country to help prop up the weak transitional government, formed in 2004 after the 14th attempt at setting up a national administration since the fall of the late ruler Mohamed Siyad Barre 1991.
Only Uganda and Burundi have deployed their contingents of nearly 2,000 troops between them. Other African countries who pledged to contribute have been unable to do so because of logistical and security concerns.
However, Somali insurgent groups have been engaged in fierce battles with government troops, AU troops and Ethiopian troops in the country, causing the death and injury of thousands of people, mostly civilians caught in the cross fire, and the displacement of almost one and half million people including nearly half of Mogadishu's residents.
The arrival of Hussein in the restive capital this month has made the local people hopeful that the current government could finally ease their suffering. The first ray of hope came when cabinet members worked to hold a meeting with local elders to discuss how reconciliation with the opposition should be approached.
Scores of leaders from the Hawiye clan, including the revered spokesman for the Hawiye Clan Unity and Culture Council, Ahmed Diriye, and four other members of the council were released from government custody as a result.
Clan elders, the largest in the south and center of Somalia, had been vocal in their opposition to government policies and to the presence of Ethiopian troops in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.
The 160-member council had been calling for the withdrawal of the troops and the holding of a national reconciliation conference in a neutral venue with the participation from all parties to the conflict.
The new minister of info