Global leaders have called for urgent action on Somalia, warning that the world will "pay the price" for failing to help the country tackle its political instability, civil war and pirates.
Speaking at the conference in London along with dozen other leaders on Thursday, David Cameron, the British prime minister, said the “problem in Somalia is a complex jigsaw puzzle where every piece has to be put into place. It is all about the patient work of helping the Somali people to re-build their country from bottom-up,” he said.
Cameron concluded: “So, today, we have reached agreements on seven key areas: security, piracy, terrorism, humanitarian assistance, local stability, reinvigorating political process and international co-ordination.”
Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, said the "time is ripe to fix Somali’s problems but it must be done by its citizens".
"For decades, the world has focused on what we could prevent from happening in Somalia - be it conflict, famine, or other disasters. Now we are focused on what we can build. The opportunity is real," she said.
About 50 countries and organisations are represented at Thursday's conference, which included Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, and representatives from the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League, as well as the head of the breakaway Somaliland region.
Clinton said the mandate of Somalia's transitional government must end as planned in August, and warned travel bans and asset freezes could be imposed against those who attempt to hamper progress.
She also pledged an extra $64mn in humanitarian assistance to the region to help improve the lives of ordinary Somalis, blighted by famine and civil war for the past 21 years.
Gatherings similar to Thursday's meeting in the past 20 years have resulted in many foreign commitments of aid, but in little progress on the ground, sceptics say. Cameron referred to past engagement as "sporadic and half-hearted".
Britain, the country organising the conference, said the aim of the event is to galvanise policymakers' attention and to better co-ordinate a sometimes disjointed international response to Somalia's many challenges.
Leaders hailed tentative signs of progress in Somalia, with piracy attacks in decline and the al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab largely driven out of the capital Mogadishu.
Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Somalia's prime minister, said on Thursday he would welcome air strikes against al-Qaeda targets in his country.
He said the issue of al-Qaeda fighters based in Somalia was "a global problem and it needs to be addressed globally".
For his part, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Somali president, urged the international community to make good on previous pledges, saying: "We want to know what about all those resolutions and those hopes that remain as mere words on piece of paper."
Al-Shabab, an armed group who are fighting the Somali government, not represented at the conference, denounced the meeting.
Abu Omar Abudurehman, an Al-Shabab commander, said that if the conference results in "unwanted interference in Somalia" then it will lead to "an ugly turn of events".
"Somalia is a country blighted by all these years of foreign interventions and the London Conference would simply be another futile attempt to brush up the impotency surrounding the corrupt TFG," said Abudurehman.
"We will confront and counter, by any means possible, all the outcomes of the London conference," the fighters said in a statement later, accusing the meeting's delegates of "prolonging the instability".
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government [TFG] got a boost on the eve of the conference when the UN Security Council voted to increase an African Union peacekeeping force by nearly half, seeking to press home gains made in a military offensive against the al-Shabab armed group.
The UN chief urged the world to build on recent progress after the UN agreed to boost the African Union peacekeeping force in the country to more than 17,000 from 12,000, and after Shabab fighters were driven from a key town.
"We have opened a space for peace and stability in Somalia. It is a small space but it presents an opportunity we cannot afford to miss," Ban Ki-moon said.
Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, also welcomed the UN resolution to boost AU troops.
"This is a very significant development," he said from London.
" It comes as a response not only to our achievement on the ground but also our anticipation of what the immediate future should be."
"So we have developed a comprehensive strategic concept and it is workable. That is why UNSC supported unanimously.
"I believe the AU troops are not considered foreign troops by the majority of people of Somalia. Somalia is integral part of AU, we are Somalia as much as they are AU.
"We are there to assist and help them overcome the current difficulties. And there is no need to stress here that we will never be an occupying force. We are a friendly force."
History of violence
The conference also brought together the leaders of Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, all of which have a huge stake in Somalia's future. Moses Wetangula, foreign minister of neighbouring Kenya, told the Reuters news agency he wanted to see "a renewed and reinvigorated international commitment to Somalia".
"We hope it's not going to be the usual talking shop where we make flowery speeches and get clapped and go away without caring whether it will be followed up or not," he said.
Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, whose country sent 4,000 troops into southern Somalia last October to fight the al-Shabab, said the Somalian government must be helped to build its own security forces.
The military offensive against al-Shabab is ongoing, and on Wednesday Ethiopian and Somali forces captured the al-Shabab stronghold of Baidoa in the south, the country's prime minister said.
The TFG's mandate ends in August, by which time it is to have enacted a new basic constitution and held an election.
Somalia collapsed into civil war between rival warlords, clans and factions after Siad Barre, the country's former military dictator, was overthrown in 1991. Up to a million people have been killed since then, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Currently, the weak Western-backed TFG, which controls only a limited area, is fighting a revolt by fighters belonging to the al-Shabab group. Al-Shabab recently announced that it was merging with al-Qaeda.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|