AFP - International donors pledged more than 250 million dollars (192 million euros) Thursday to help bolster security in Somalia, a key to helping end attacks by pirates off the country's coast.
After delegates, which included the war-torn country's president, underlined the challenges facing the war-torn country, organisers said donors had promised funding which was likely to exceed their initial expectations.
"We are on target, we are even a litle bit higher because the target was 250 million dollars," said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel. "It seems that we are also above 250 million if you take into account material aid."
"It's really a full success," he added to reporters after the four-hour conference in Brussels. The European Commission had announced it would pledge at least 60 million euros on the eve of the meeting.
Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who took office in January, made a personal plea for funds at the conference, also attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
"Solving this problem will require a radical solution," said Ahmed.
"The restoration of security and peace in Somalia is the basis of any solution to the problems," he said.
Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.
Islamist fighters including the hardline Shebab militia have waged battles against the transitional government, its predecessor cabinet and their allies, vowing to fight until all foreign forces withdraw and sharia law is imposed.
More than one million people have fled their homes. Fewer than one in three Somalis, whose life expectancy is 46 years, have access to clean water.
While the conference was not focused on piracy, the high media profile of the growing number of cases of daring raids on freighters on the seas of the Gulf of Aden has become synonymous with Somalia's woes.
"Piracy is not a water-borne disease. It is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground," Ban said. "Dealing with it requires an integrated strategy that addresses the fundamental issue of lawlessness in Somalia."
Despite international naval missions -- including from NATO and the European Union -- piracy has spiralled over the last year, as ransom-hunting Somalis tackle ever-bigger and more distant prizes.
More than 130 merchant ships were attacked in the region last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, the International Maritime Bureau said. A tenfold increase was noted in the first three months of 2009.
"If we only treat the symptoms, piracy at sea, but not its root causes -- the decay of the state and poverty -- we will fail," Barroso said.
Non-governmental organisation Oxfam said the conference was being held at a critical moment for 3.2 million Somalis desperately in need of aid, more than a million of whom have fled their homes to avoid fighting in the last two years.
"The piracy issue that has grabbed international headlines is a symptom of deeper issues that have gone un-addressed ever since the collapse of the national government in 1991," Oxfam's Robert Maletta said in a statement.
Ahmed underlined: "It is our duty to pursue these criminals not only on the high seas but also on terra firma."
Ban said security efforts should focus on building capacity, notably within the Somali police force, and providing political and financial support to a troubled African Union peacekeeping mission dubbed AMISOM.
However he said that the United Nations should take a cautious and incremental approach to sending its own peacekeeping mission, and only "when the security conditions are appropriate."
The 4,300-troop AMISOM force -- the only security presence backing the government -- is well short of the 8,000 soldiers initially planned and is regularly attacked by the Islamist Shehab militia.