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World powers hail Somalia's progress but warn of dangers

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Strife-torn Somalia has made "significant progress" and its economy is starting to revive, an international conference said on Tuesday, while warning that big challenges remain in stopping it sliding back into lawlessness.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, co-hosting the meeting of more than 50 countries and organisations, described the progress made since London's first international conference on Somalia 15 months ago as "remarkable".

The conference, attended by the United Nations, African Union (AU), International Monetary Fund and other world bodies, was aimed at boosting political stability in the impoverished nation, which has had no effective government since 1991.

After a day of talks, they said there were reasons for optimism.

"The number of pirate attacks committed off the coast of Somalia has dramatically reduced," a final communique said.

"The famine has receded. The diaspora have begun to return. The economy is starting to revive."

But it warned that the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants were "still a threat to peace and security".

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, co-hosting the conference with Cameron, said "the time to help Somalia is now".

His calls for international funding were answered with pledges from Britain of £145 million ($224 million, 171 million euros) to help avoid the devastating famines which struck Somalia between 2010 and 2012, and £35 million to support Somalia's security forces and governance.

Britain once colonised the northern part of Somalia which is now the self-declared independent Somaliland, and it has taken a leading role in efforts to rebuild Somalia after two decades of conflict.

The European Union promised 44 million euros ($58 million) of aid, while the United States offered $40 million.

The EU said its funding would be used to build up Somalia's justice system and police force.

"In Somalia, like anywhere else, there can be no development without security," EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs said.

Mohamud's government, which came to power last year, remains weak and needs the support of about 18,000 AU troops to stay in power.

"We have been given a chance and we will prove in the eyes of the world that we will deliver -- and we will," Mohamud told a press conference after the meeting.

Shebab militants were driven out of the capital Mogadishu by AU troops in August 2011, but the Islamists have carried out a series of brutal attacks in recent months.

A reminder of the danger that stalks Somalia came on Sunday when about a dozen people were killed in Mogadishu after a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a government convoy carrying officials from Qatar.

Despite the unrest, Somalia appears to be slowly turning a corner, with businesses reporting an increase in activity, particularly at the ports.

Cameron said earlier that piracy off the Somali coast had dropped 80 percent since February 2012.

But he admitted that long-term stability was a long way off yet.

"It's one of the most fragile countries anywhere in the world. It's one of the poorest countries, one of the most broken countries, one of the most conflict-affected countries," he told BBC television.

"And yes, the writ of the government as it stands today does not run a long way outside Mogadishu. But at least it has a government. It's making a start, and I think we're seeing some real progress."

Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, said Somalia had entered a "new era".

"Last year, when countries gathered to discuss how to help the Somali people they were talking about how to complete a transition," he told AFP.

"This year, what everyone's talking about is how does one support a Somali government, in a Somali-led process. We're in a new era."

The conference also pledged to work to tackle sexual violence in Somalia, which the UN says is "pervasive".

Britain and the United Arab Emirates last month announced £1 million ($1.6 million, 1.2 million euros) each to help tackle sexual violence.

Britain raised eyebrows by inviting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces an international trial for crimes against humanity, to the conference.

A British government source said the invitation counted as "essential contact" with Kenyatta, who is due to go on trial at the International Criminal Court in July.

Downing Street said Kenya played a "vital" role in Somalia, because it has nearly 5,000 troops stationed there and hosts more Somali refugees than any other nation.

Kenyatta had talks with Cameron and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.


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