By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — World leaders pledged new help to tackle terrorism and piracy in Somalia, but insisted Thursday that the troubled East African nation must quickly form a stable government and threatened penalties against those who hamper its progress.
Nations pledged new funding, additional training for soldiers and coast guards, increased cooperation over terrorism and a new drive to root out those who finance and profit from piracy, after the shipping industry paid out $135 million in ransoms last year.
"For two decades Somalia has been torn apart by famine, bloodshed and some of the worst poverty on earth," British Prime Minister David Cameron said, as 55 nations and international organizations, including Somalia's United Nations-backed transitional government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the talks.
"If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so," he added.
Cameron warned that Somalia's al-Qaida linked militant group al-Shabab could export terrorism to Europe and the United States, with dozens of British and American citizens traveling to Somalia to train and fight with the Islamists.
Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years, but has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the nation into chaos.
In a joint communique, leaders hailed tentative signs of progress — with pirate attacks in decline and al-Shabab largely driven out of the capital Mogadishu by an African Union peacekeeping mission.
Despite differences expressed over the role of al-Shabab in Somalia's political future, the summit conclusions called for "all those willing to reject violence to join" the country's U.N.-led peace process. Nations also agreed to "develop a defectors' program to support those who leave armed groups."
Clinton insisted the mandate of Somalia's transitional government must end as planned in August, and warned travel bans and asset freezes could be imposed against anyone who attempts to stall political progress.
Both a new president and new legislators are due to be elected, although the details of how elections will be carried out have not yet been agreed. Somalia's bloated Parliament, currently over 500 legislators, is due be cut in half to form an upper and lower house with 225 members and 54 senators.
"It's time to buckle down and do the work that will bring stability to Somalia for the first time in many of its people's lives," Clinton told the conference.
Somalia's weak transitional administration — which holds Mogadishu with the support of about 10,000 African Union soldiers — has been boosted after the U.N. on Wednesday approved an increase in the size of the AU peacekeeping mission, known as AMISOM, to about 17,700.
Al-Shabab, which earlier this month formalized its relationship with al-Qaida, is being hit from three sides in Somalia: Pressed out of Mogadishu by AMISOM soldiers, while Kenyan forces who moved into Somalia in October pressure the militants from the south and Ethiopian forces sweep in from the west.
In a statement, al-Shabab denounced the conference, claiming it was "aimed at carving up the Somali nation" and vowed to wage war against what it described as a crusade by Western powers.
Cameron suggested international air strikes could be used to target extremist training camps and pirate bases, though his office insisted he was referring to U.S.-led drone strikes which have previously targeted militants inside Somalia, rather than fighter jets.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said he would continue to support targeted international airstrikes if civilians were protected.
Leaders said the use of private armed guards aboard ships off Somalia's coast had already helped to disrupt pirate attacks. Pirates hold seven vessels and 191 hostages, compared to 32 ships and 661 hostages in January 2011.
Several neighboring nations pledged new help to prosecute suspected pirates, while Somalia's northern breakaway republic of Somaliland and the Puntland region offered to detain more of those convicted in their jails.