Donors pledge over $250 million for Somalia

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BRUSSELS — International donors pledged more than $250 million Thursday to help Somalia strengthen its security forces and try to stop the rampant pirate attacks that have plagued one of the world’s most important waterways.

BRUSSELS — International donors pledged more than $250 million Thursday to help Somalia strengthen its security forces and try to stop the rampant pirate attacks that have plagued one of the world’s most important waterways. The hefty sum included funding for equipment and material that significantly exceeded the request made by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said. The U.N.-sponsored international donors’ conference originally aimed to raise at least €128 million ($166 million) to finance African Union peacekeepers already in the Horn of Africa nation as well as Somalia’s fledgling police and security forces. Stabilizing Somalia was the focus of Thursday’s meeting — but squashing the persistent piracy jeopardizing international shipping also topped the agenda. "Piracy is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground," Ban told the delegates. "More security on the ground will make less piracy on the seas." Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed pledged to do "everything imaginable" to stabilize Somalia and fight piracy. "This phenomenon will not last forever," he promised. The money will go to training the Somali police force directly by the United Nations and developing Somali security forces and their oversight bodies. The pledges also include a significant amount for the African Union forces in Somalia, as well as development aid for medicine, education and rural development. The European Union says at least 3.25 million Somalis are now in need of humanitarian food aid, up from 1.8 million at the beginning of 2008. "The situation continues to be very difficult, but with this financial help … I sincerely hope we will be able to control the situation there," Ban said at a joint news conference with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU’s executive body. The pledges were a recognition of the need to end two decades of anarchy in Somalia and of the threat that further lawlessness posed to the world, not just one nation. Ahmed, elected by parliament in January, is a former fighter with the Islamic insurgency. He has been trying to broker peace with warring groups after years of chaos and gain legitimacy, but his Western-backed government wields little control outside the capital of Mogadishu and needs help from African peacekeepers to do even that. Most of the funding pledged at the meeting will go for the AU force, which numbers 4,350 now but is expected to expand to 8,000 troops. Funding will also be earmarked for Ahmed’s government, which wants to build up a police force of 10,000 along with a separate security force of 6,000 members. Ahmed said his government had taken measures to achieve peace and stability and to reconcile with the warring militias. In the final conference communique, Ahmed pledged to forge an inclusive government "open to all those who wanted to join." He also called on the international community to help his government set up a new coast guard to address the problem of piracy. "It is our duty to pursue these criminals not only on the high seas but also on terra firma," he said to loud applause. Those comments may ignore reality. Ahmed’s administration has not gone after pirates who flash their cash in the coastal cities because pirate leaders currently wield more power than his shaky government. In the past year, pirates have hijacked dozens of ships in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane linking Asia via the Suez Canal to Europe. Piracy experts estimate the seafaring gangs took in about $80 million in ransom payments in 2008. Nearly a dozen nations and organizations — including the U.S., the European Union NATO, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea — have deployed warships to the region, but the fleet has been unable to stop hijackings along Somalia’s 1,900-mile-long (3,100-kilometer) coastline. Associated Press writers Deborah Seward, Robert Wielaard, Constant Brand and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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