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Somali leader calls for int'l solidarity to help Somalia

(Xinhua)

10:46, September 15, 2011

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali on Wednesday called for increased international support for Somalia as the Horn of Africa country faces the interconnected challenges of developing political institutions, expanding peace and security, and mitigating the impacts of a devastating famine.

"Today, Somalia faces two alternative futures," Ali said at an open meeting of the UN Security Council. "One is where the humanitarian relief effort is stepped up, the international support force of AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) grows and can support the Somali Police and Army in building on the security gains made so far."

"At the same time, this enables the political journey to be taken to revitalize and strengthen the Somali state. The alternative, however, spells dire consequences for the state," he said.

Also at the Council meeting, Augustine Mahiga, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Somalia, echoed Ali 's idea that the troubled country is currently at a significant crossroads in its history.

"The situation remains fragile and tenuous but we have a golden opportunity to end the transition to stabilize Somalia," said Mahiga. "I appeal to the Council to send an unequivocal message of encouragement to the Somali leadership while simultaneously putting them on notice that there can be no return to political bickering."

The moment of opportunity has been prompted in part by the withdrawal of Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu in August. Shabaab and other militant groups had been fighting the forces of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and AMISOM in Mogadishu, which has helped prevent the formation of a truly unified and permanent national government.

The ongoing attempts to create a viable government took what Mahiga called "a great step forward" when officials convened at the Consultative Meeting on Ending the Transition in Somalia, held in Mogadishu from Sept. 4-6.

"It is different from previous efforts because this time there is a broad-based consensus and political commitment to end the transition," he said of the meeting. "In addition, there are agreed upon benchmarks and timelines to be fulfilled."

Ali also expressed enthusiasm about the success of the meeting and said that it will provide clear goals to "ensure the return of permanent government in August next year."

Somalia is on its way to achieving objectives laid out in a roadmap it has endorsed for building stable and permanent government institutions, he said.

"Critically, my government is committed to implementing the roadmap and delivering the priority tasks of security, the constitution, reconciliation and good governance by 20 August 2012, " Ali said.

He added that Somalia is already in the process of appointing a committee to help draft a national constitution, and is creating an annual budget and anti-corruption commission.

"The international community must immediately provide resources to the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) and other implementing partners in order to ensure that we capitalize on the substantial political investment that has earned us all this moment of optimism and hope," Mahiga said.

International partners must also capitalize on important changes on the security front in Somalia, according to Mahiga.

"As I have previously pointed out, critical gaps remain in the logistical support package to AMISOM, which should be considered as the council prepares to renew the mandate of AMISOM in a few days'time," he said.

The AMISOM mandate expires on Sept. 30, and must be renewed by the council in order to continue past that date.

Ali called on the Security Council to "urgently reconsider" increasing the deployment of AMISOM troops from the current ceiling of 12,000 to 20,000 troops and giving it air and sea capabilities, as recommended by the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council.

"In order to consolidate and build on the security gains it is essential to enlarge the AMISOM force, that has sacrificed so much and worked so hard, in the future with the required air and maritime force components that it so badly needs," he said. "To support this united effort I look forward to announcing the National Security and Stabilization Plan -- a key part of the Roadmap -- in the near future."

On the related topic of the humanitarian situation in Somalia, which is dire due to drought and the resulting famine, the prime minister said that the TFG has taken steps to mitigate the suffering including establishing camps for those fleeing to Mogadishu to seek refuge and assistance.

"The greatest need, however, continues to be felt within areas will under the effective control of the extremists, where access by international humanitarian agencies is severely restricted," he said. "The insurgents are also hampering the freedom of movement of millions who are trying to reach help either in Mogadishu or in neighboring countries."

"The international community must urgently reinforce our efforts to extend the zone of safety for aid workers beyond Mogadishu and into these areas," he added.

A food crisis in the Horn of Africa, caused by both drought and rising food prices has been deemed a famine in six regions of Somalia, include areas that are under the control of Al-Shabaab.

Briefing reporters here on Wednesday, Elhadj As Sy, UN Children 's Fund (UNICEF) regional director for East and Southern Africa, said that there are 13 million people affected by the food shortages in the Horn of Africa.

We are trying to do everything possible to reach people in need wherever they might be and this is not always an easy task, it involves a lot of risk," Sy said.

Sy indicated that even if the rains that the people of the region have needed so badly arrive between Sept. and Dec. as projected, it will still take more time for Somalis to regain what they have lost.

"Even if it was the case that we had good rains, we would need time for people to plant crops and then those crops to be harvested, up to three months," he said. "So that requires kind of a medium and long term commitment to the support which is being provided to these populations both in the camps and in the refugee settings, as well as in those places in Somalia in which famine is being declared."

At this point, four million Somalis, more than half of the country's population are categorized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as in crisis, due to the shortages of food.

Sy explained that funding for the crisis has gained momentum, reaching 80 percent of the UN's appeal. However, he said that maintaining sustained response is "very, very critical" to the fate of humanitarian operations.

"The moral authority of this council and the whole international community needs to be brought to bear to facilitate life-saving assistance in the famine-stricken areas of Somalia and to address the whole challenge of drought in the Horn of Africa," Mahiga said.

Ali explained to the council what the future of Somalia could be if international solidarity and national will to help the country subsides.

"Worsening famine, together with epidemics of cholera and measles, destroys the country's social fabric and ruins economic livelihoods for a generation," he said. "All the while, seriously overstretched TFG and AMISOM forces are unable to stop Al-Shabaab regrouping. Allied with the enemies of peace in Somalia, they attack the fragile security in the capital and fatally undermine all efforts to rebuild government."


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