- Ban Ki-moon - insurgency - Islam - Somalia
International community pledges support to fragile government
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon lead dozens of countries to form an agreement to back Somalia's fragile government Saturday, as it struggles to wrestle power back from Islamist insurgents and stem rampant piracy off the coast.
AFP - Dozens of countries pledged Saturday to help Somalia's fragile government boost its military, wrest back power from Islamist insurgents and combat the piracy plaguing the Horn of Africa nation's waters.
Expressing "full support" for President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and his transitional federal government, they said the "reestablishment, training, equipping, payment and retention of Somali security forces is vital for long-term stability."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who opened the two-day international conference in Istanbul, said Somalia's government was the only barrier to chaos in the war-ravaged nation.
The transitional government was established in January 2009, but its authority -- challenged by Islamist insurgents -- only extends over a small part of the capital Mogadishu with the backing of African Union troops.
Ban told delegates from 55 nations and 12 international organisations that "the only way to restore stability is to support this government in its reconciliation effort and its fight against extremism."
"If the international community acts now, I think it can make the difference," he said.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged international organisations to return to Mogadishu, the scene of near daily battles between government forces and Islamists.
"We shouldn't abandon the (transitional government) in Mogadishu. The international community should be present in Mogadishu... We can't have UN agencies working all around it but not in Mogadishu," he said.
France, which has trained 500 Somali soldiers, is ready to join a training programme for Somali police and soldiers that is to take place in Africa, he added.
In their declaration, the countries identified six priorities for the country's development: telecommunications, transport infrastructure, livestock, fish, banking and alternative energy, and pledged to support pilot investment projects.
Talks also focused on the international drive to combat Somalia-based pirates that prey on commercial shipping in key maritime routes in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
Ban and Kouchner met prior to the start of the conference, with the French foreign minister telling the UN chief that more development aid and security in Somalia would help curb piracy, a French official said.
To this end, Kouchner urged Ahmed's government to step up joint actions with Somalia's breakaway northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland, and promised French help to curb illegal fishing in Somali waters, which pirates often blame for their activities.
The UN Security Council last month unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by Russia that urges all states to toughen legislation aimed at prosecuting and jailing pirates caught off Somalia.
Ahmed, who attended the conference, stressed that piracy was not just a matter of law and order, saying that ending it depended on bringing stability and better economic conditions to Somalia.
"The Somali people are living in poverty and to earn easy money some of them harm our peaceful image," he said. "It's not just a question of security and politics, it's a human problem."
Kouchner urged Ahmed to "expand the political base of consensus which will make Somalia tip to the side of peace."
While appealing for international support, Ban also used his keynote speech to remind the transitional government of its obligations.
"The government must also start to deliver, uphold services to the Somali people, pay salaries to the security forces fighting on their behalf and continue efforts to build up security-sector institutions," he said.