World leaders pledge support to Somalia

Fifty-five countries meet in conference in Istanbul


Fifty-five countries on Saturday pledged their support to Somalia's fragile transitional federal government as the only barrier to chaos in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened an international conference in Istanbul with an appeal for global support for Somalia's government as it sought to strengthen its military resources and reconstruct the country.

The transitional government was established in January 2009, but its authority, challenged by Islamist insurgents, only extends over a small part of the capital Mogadishu with the backing of African Union troops.

"The conference expressed its full support to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed... and the transitional federal institutions," said a statement issued at the end of a first day of talks in Istanbul.

"The reestablishment, training, equipping, payment and retention of Somali security forces is vital for (its) long-term stability," it said.

Opening the two-day conference, Ban told delegates that "the only way to restore stability is to support this government in its reconciliation effort and its fight against extremism."

"If the international community acts now, I think it can make the difference," he said.

Ahmed is attending the Istanbul conference, which is also focusing on international efforts to combat Somalia-based pirates that prey on commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Others among the 55 participating nations and 12 international organizations included the French and Spanish foreign ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Kouchner urged Ahmed to "expand the political base of consensus which will make Somalia tip to the side of peace."

Ban and Kouchner met prior to the start of the conference, with the French foreign minister telling the U.N. chief that more development aid and security in Somalia would help curb piracy, a French official said.

To this end, Kouchner urged Ahmed's government to step up joint actions with Somalia's breakaway northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland, and promised French help to curb illegal fishing in Somali waters, which pirates often blame for their activities.

While appealing for international support, Ban also used his keynote speech in Istanbul to remind the transitional government of its obligations.

"The government must also start to deliver, uphold services to the Somali people, pay salaries to the security forces fighting on their behalf and continue efforts to build up security-sector institutions," he said.

The U.N. Security Council last month unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by Russia that urges all states to toughen legislation aimed at prosecuting and jailing pirates caught off Somalia.

Ahmed stressed that piracy was not just a matter of law and order, saying that ending it depended on bringing stability and better economic conditions to Somalia.

The conference expressed its full support to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed... and the transitional federal institutions