Alarmed by the increasingly bitter dispute over the relocation of the Somali transitional government, UN chief Kofi Annan is urging a "serious dialogue" between rival factions to resolve the row that threatens peace hopes for the lawless nation.
In a report to the UN Security Council, the secretary general said it was critical for the now homeless government to move to an agreed destination after the departure of most members from exile in Kenya earlier this month.
Without such a step, the government, created with great fanfare last year in Nairobi after an extended mediation process, risks losing what little trust the Somali people and international community have in the administration, he said.
Left unresolved, the dispute could escalate the clan and ethnic violence that has shattered the conflict-ravaged, anarchic nation for the past 14 years since the 1991 ouster of strongman Mohammad Siad Barre, Annan said.
"It is of utmost importance that the Transitional Federal Government and transitional federal institutions relocate to Somalia," Annan said in the report, released at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday.
"To rebuild trust with the people of Somalia and the international community, Somali leaders must begin a serious dialogue to heal their divisions and end the controversy over the relocation of the fledgling government and its institutions from Kenya to Somalia," he said.
"It is clear that the government's relocation plan has been fraught with controversy and opposition, which could assume the divisions along clan and regional lines," Annan said.
The report was issued following the failure of the latest attempt to resolve the government relocation crisis between Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden.
Yusuf and Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi want to set up their administration in the regional towns of Jowhar and Baidoa, arguing that the security situation in bullet-scarred Mogadishu would not permit it there.
But Aden and many powerful warlords insist that all government institutions be located in the traditional capital of Mogadishu.
As a result, the factions have pitched camps in various towns in the country, home to about 10 million people, with Gedi in Jowhar, 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of the capital and Aden and others in Mogadishu.
Since Yusuf left Kenya earlier this month, he has not set foot in his native country and is currently in Yemen, which hosted the failed attempt to resolve the matter last week.
Among other "serious challenges linked to the relocation" is a battle over the composition of a proposed east African regional peacekeeping force to assist the government in getting itself set up in the lawless country.
The African Union-endorsed mission has been hampered since the concept was created by opposition from Somalis to troops from neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya which are all seen as having ulterior motives in the nation.
Its deployment has also been slowed by inaction on a call from the east African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is to supply the troops for the operation, for the lifting of a UN arms embargo on Somalia to assist the mission.
Annan said rescinding the arms embargo "poses a challenge for the international community and the UN in particular" because it would do little to improve security in Somalia which is already awash in weapons.
Instead, he said, increased enforcement of the embargo would do more to help.
"The enforcement of the arms embargo, with improved monitoring capacity and the establishment of enforcement measures, would considerably enhance security in Somalia," Annan said.