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US$250m for Somalia security

INTERNATIONAL donors pledged more than US$250 million yesterday to help Somalia strengthen its security forces and try to stop the rampant pirate attacks that have plagued vessels on one of the world's most important waterways.

The hefty sum included funding for equipment and material that significantly exceeded the request made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel said.

The UN-sponsored international donors' conference originally aimed to raise at least 128 million euros (US$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 yesterday'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.

"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 European Union'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.

Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik 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 to the African 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.


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