UN seeks urgent aid to avoid power vacuum in Somalia

AFP , Friday 1 Jun 2012

UN chief Ban Ki-moon urges international donors to provide aid to Somalia with the aim of building social solidarity and steady government in the face of piracy, terrorism and drought

Somali government soldiers run to position during an ambush by al Shabaab rebels on the outskirts of Elasha town May 29, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called Friday for urgent international aid for Somalia to head off the risk of warlords exploiting a power vacuum after the scheduled change of power in August.

"We urgently need assistance to avoid a power vacuum that warlords might exploit," Ban told delegates from more than 50 countries gathered in Istanbul for an international conference on Somalia.

"I urge donors to contribute to this critical effort. In the face of terrorism, piracy and drought, Somalia needs solidarity," he added.

Nations had to "do their part", as the war-torn country's transitional body prepares to hand over power in August, with the aim of building a steady government after two decades of instability, said Ban.

"I ask you to consider how to contribute long-term, predictable support for Somalia," the UN secretary general said on the second day of the Second Istanbul Conference on Somalia.

Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed spelt out the scale of the task that lay ahead for the Horn of Africa nation after two decades of conflict that has cost 400,000 lives since 1991.

The country's infrastructure would have to be rebuilt, he said, adding: "It is a costly matter and our resources are very limited."

Host country Turkey, which launched a major aid initiative last year for Somalia to help it through its worst drought in decades, also stressed the need for immediate help.

"Somalia needs, more than ever, material aid," said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The aim was to set up a new state structure following the August handover of power that would allow for normal life to return for good in Somalia, he added.

On the first day of the conference, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the Somali capital Mogadishu was now open for business, as pro-government forces had largely driven out Islamist insurgents.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is due to address the conference on Friday, has underlined the improvement in the security situation in Mogadishu, saying three of his country's ministers have visited this year.

But in a statement Thursday he added: "All eyes are now on Somalia's leaders to ensure that they deliver a peaceful handover of power and succession when the transitional period formally ends in August."

The Istanbul conference builds on a February gathering in London.

The focus Friday was on aid to Somalia after senior officials, experts and businessmen discussed the practical details of developing water, energy, roads and sustainability the previous day.

But lawmakers have struggled to meet the targets set by a "roadmap" signed by Somalia's disparate leaders for the formation of a government by August 20 to replace the weak transitional body in Mogadishu.

Since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia has been variously governed by ruthless warlords and militia groups, each controlling their own limited fiefdoms.

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