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World Leaders Pledge Support To Somalia At London Conference


World leaders attending an international conference on Somalia in London have promised their full support in bringing peace and stability to the strife-torn Horn of Africa nation, and pledged further aids to tackle its humanitarian requirements, Islamist militancy as well as piracy.

In a statement issued after the conference, the participants vowed to back the handover of power from the current U.N.-backed transitional government to an inclusive administration by August, provide more support for African Union peacekeepers deployed in Somalia, better co-ordinate humanitarian aid, shift their focus to long-term needs of the country and to crack down on piracy by expanding on agreements to bring suspects to trial in countries away from Somalia.

Heads of State and Foreign Ministers from over 50 countries as well as representatives of the United Nations and the African Union attended the conference hosted by the British government on Thursday in London. The conference aimed to reach consensus on a series of "practical measures" on security, political progress, stability and humanitarian issues.

Although most Somali factions were represented at the conference, the al-Shabaab Islamist insurgent group was not invited. Al-Shabaab is Somalia's most prominent and influential Islamist militant outfit and is branded a terror organization by the United States and most of the international community.

The outfit is the military wing of the Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopia-backed Somali forces in 2006. The al-Shabaab and allied groups still control large parts of southern Somalia where they enforce strict Islamic laws or Sharia.

The conference in London came six months prior to the end of Somalia's political transition and ahead of fresh elections that are set to take place by August 20. The developments are in line with a deal signed over the weekend by the country's political factions.

The deal calls for establishing a new federal system after the August elections. It requires the setting up of a bi-cameral Parliament with representation of all tribal clans as well recognizing the breakaway States of Puntland and Galmudug.

At the beginning of the conference, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed of the Somali transitional government told the participants that his countrymen forget "horrendous memories of the past." He urged the conference to ensure that the gathering did not end up as another diplomatic show without any positive outcome.

"Today we are looking for security. We are scared," he said. "We want to know what happened to the resolutions, all those hopes in the past which never saw the light of the day, and which remain as mere words on pieces of paper."

In her address to the conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that al-Shabaab must be forced to remain a militant outfit "on the run," and ruled out talks with it. Noting that al-Shabaab had recently aligned itself with the al-Qaeda, Clinton said the move showed that the militant outfit "is not on the side of peace, stability or the Somali people."

She also dismissed earlier calls for targeting al-Shabaab facilities with air strikes, stating that there was no case for that kind of action. She also stressed that the international community remains willing to hold talks with any group that renounces violence and joins the Somali peace process.

"For decades, the world focused on what we could prevent from happening in Somalia - conflict, famine and terrorism. Now, we are focused on what we can build," she added.

Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that the conference had "reinvigorated" the political process in Somalia and described the planned transition of power "first signs of fragile progress" in Somalia after 20 years. He urged Somalis to use the opportunity to elect a government that was as "inclusive as possible."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community in his address to answer Somalia's "cries for peace." He also appealed to the Somali leaders to establish "sustainable, credible and indigenous security institutions" and implement security arrangements that are best suited to "their system of governance."

During the conference, the U.S. pledged a further $64 million in humanitarian aid to Somalia, while the European Union agreed to provide $133 million for increasing the strength of the AU peacekeeping mission. Britain and Germany also pledged additional aid.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's government in 1991. Currently, the weak U.N.-backed interim government set up in 2004 is trying to enforce its authority in the country with the help of some 12,000-strong AU peacekeepers.

Earlier this week, the U.N. Security Council had called for increasing the number of AU peacekeepers deployed in Somalia to 17,731, and decided to expand the U.N.'s logistical support package to the force and extend it until October 31.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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