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Somalia wins funds, opposition leader vows unity
Thu Apr 23, 2009 12:55pm EDT
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By David Brunnstrom and Timothy Heritage
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Somalia's government won pledges of at least $213 million in aid on Thursday to boost security and fight piracy, and a hardline Islamist opposition leader called for unity on his return from abroad.
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is on the U.S. list of terrorism suspects for alleged links to al Qaeda, but his appeal for unity among Somalis could boost reconciliation efforts if he is backed by Islamist insurgents fighting the government.
International donors agreed to increase aid to Somalia at a conference in Brussels where President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said he needed more help to end two decades of lawlessness and fight growing piracy off the east African country's coast.
"This is an extremely important conference because it is going to contribute to a solution to the problems of Somalia," Ahmed told a news conference in Brussels. "We will do everything we can so that Somalia becomes a beacon of peace."
He said the Somali gangs that have hijacked dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors hostage and made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms had to be tackled on land as well as at sea.
"We feel that the intensification of our efforts and the international community should put an end to this phenomenon," Ahmed said.
The United Nations put the amount of new aid pledges at $213 million. Louis Michel, the European Union's commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, said the figure could be more than $250 million if equipment was included.
EU officials said the aim was to build up a police force of some 10,000 personnel and a security force of 5,000, and to bolster the 4,300-strong African Union mission AMISOM.
The seizure of ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean by Somali gangs has driven up insurance rates and other costs in sea lanes linking Europe to Asia, and Washington has long tried to ensure al Qaeda cannot operate in Somalia.
Many world leaders say Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel leader elected at U.N.-brokered talks in January, offers the best hope in years of restoring stability.
His administration is the 15th attempt in 18 years to set up a central government since warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other.
CALL FOR UNITY
Aweys's return to Somalia was his first known trip back to the Horn of Africa nation since he was ousted two years ago.
He has been an important opposition lightning rod and is believed to have influence over some Islamist insurgents.
Aweys told dozens of supporters gathered to welcome him that he wanted Somalis to unite. Continued...
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