By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON (Reuters) - The United Nations has given strong backing to the new leadership of Somalia ahead of a donor conference in London on Tuesday that will seek pledges to rebuild the East African country torn apart by two decades of civil war.
Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the United Nations wanted to shift more of its efforts into development projects and away from humanitarian aid as Somalia begins to recover from years of lawlessness, violence and famine.
"The main reason we have hope now, more than ever .... is we now have a leadership which has a sense of responsibility," Eliasson told Reuters in London.
"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," he added.
Eliasson was speaking a day before the conference which is aimed at bolstering stability in Somalia, raising pledges of aid and signaling international support for Somalia's new president, who was elected last year.
The vote was the first of its kind since toppling of military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, which had left Somalia at the mercy of warlords and later radical Islamists, while its coasts became notorious as a haven for pirates.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will hold a joint news briefing at the end of the conference on Tuesday at 1515 GMT.
While security has improved in Mogadishu, on Sunday a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a convoy carrying Qatari officials, 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.
"The trend is positive, but it has been interrupted, and it might still be interrupted by sporadic attacks of the nature we have seen. Al Shabaab are still a threat," Eliasson said.
Somalia's leadership also must integrate the breakaway district of Somaliland and semi-autonomous Puntland region into a federal structure. 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.
"There is very high sensitivity in Africa, and also in the world, of nations splitting along ethnic, sectarian, clan lines ... I have seen no signs of an increase in the interest of recognizing Somaliland," he said.
A draft of the final communique for the London conference seen by Reuters said the meeting was taking place at a "pivotal" moment for Somalia, and calls on the international community to "consolidate progress quickly".
Somali officials are expected to outline plans for Somalia's security forces, justice sector and other institutions, and agree with global partners on how they can back those plans.
New donors are to be encouraged to come forward at the conference, to which more than 50 countries and organizations have been invited, and existing donors will be called on to honor earlier pledges.
Concerns remain over corruption, however, and while the draft communique recognizes the "urgent need" for financial support, it underscores the need for the government to demonstrate financial accountability and transparency.
Somalia's humanitarian needs are still huge, and U.N. bodies estimate aid requirements will cost $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 Michael Roddy)