Britain pledges anti-piracy aid at key Somalia summit

Reuters News

5/7/2013 9:48:41 AM - Reuters News

By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will help boost radio communications on the Somali coast as part of efforts to combat rampant piracy along global shipping routes near the East African country, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday.

Britain will also spend millions of dollars on bolstering Somalia's security forces, Cameron said at the opening of a major London conference on Somalia aimed at bolstering stability after two decades of lawlessness and civil war.

Delegates hope to find ways to back Somali plans to strengthen its army, judiciary and other institutions, and will also be asked to pledge aid for reconstruction.

"I am pleased that Britain will commit 10 million pounds ($15.5 million) to help develop Somalia's armed forces and 14.5 million pounds to double the number of police officers and train judges and lawyers," Cameron said.

"Britain will also support the new maritime strategy enabling full radio connection all along the entire coastline for the first time in 20 years," he added.

Although piracy is down by 80 percent this year with no vessel attacked so far, Cameron said, the World Bank estimated in an April report that piracy emanating from the Horn of Africa nation may still cost the world economy $18 billion a year.

Speaking to the conference, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for international support, and tied security in Somalia to that of the region and the "removal of the piracy stranglehold" on the Gulf of Aden.

"It will be a Somali-owned solution that will fix Somalia, but no country has ever recovered from such social and economic collapse without the help of the world," he said.

"And so in partnership with our endeavors, we respectfully ask for your total and unflinching commitment, partnership and support."

"PIVOTAL MOMENT"

The conference is taking place during what organizers call a "pivotal" moment for Somalia, after new parliamentarians were appointed last year who went on to elect Mohamud.

The vote was the first of its kind since the toppling of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, which left Somalia at the mercy of warlords and later radical Islamists, while its coasts became notorious pirate havens.

A draft of the final communiqué seen by Reuters calls on the international community to "consolidate progress quickly".

"I was in Somalia in 1992 in the deepest of starvation, the deepest of mass death, and for me to go there now and meet with a government which has legitimacy ... is something that we on the outside world would want to support," U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told Reuters on the eve of the summit.

Cameron and Mohamud will hold a joint news briefing at the end of the conference at 1515 GMT.

While lauding improved stability in Somalia, Cameron and Eliasson stressed that major challenges remain. On Sunday a suicide bomber attacked a convoy carrying Qatari officials in Mogadishu, killing at least eight Somalis.

The attack was claimed by the al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, which wants to impose their version of Islamic law but has been pushed out of bases in the capital and other major towns by African peacekeepers.

Somalia's leadership also must integrate the breakaway district of Somaliland and semi-autonomous Puntland region into a federal structure, ahead of national elections scheduled for 2016. Representatives of both regions are not expected to attend the London conference.

Eliasson said he hoped improved stability and security in state-controlled areas would draw the separatist districts towards the government, and played down the prospect of international recognition of an independent Somaliland.

Somalia's humanitarian needs are still huge, and U.N. bodies estimate aid requirements will reach $1.33 billion this year, an increase on last year due to improved access to deprived areas.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Additional reporting by Edmund Blair and Richard Lough in Nairobi; editing by Mike Collett-White)