The world will “pay a price” if it ignores the plight of Somalia, David Cameron said today.
Opening an international conference in London on the crisis-stricken east African state, the Prime Minister said that it was in the interests of the international community to help restore stability after two decades of turmoil.
“These problems in Somalia don’t just affect Somalia. They affect us all,” he said.
“In a country where there is no hope, chaos, violence and terrorism thrive. Pirates are disrupting vital trade routes and kidnapping tourists.
“Young minds are being poisoned by radicalism, breeding terrorism that is threatening the security of the whole world.
“If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so.”
Representatives of more than 50 countries and international organisations are attending the high-level event at Lancaster House, including United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and the leaders of neighbouring African nations.
Mr Cameron said he hoped the conference would mark a “turning point” for Somalia and put in place the “building blocks” of a more stable nation.
He welcomed the decision by the UN Security Council to increase the strength of the African Union force in the country (Amisom) – which succeeded last year in driving the extremist al Shabaab group from the capital Mogadishu – from 12,000 to 17,700 troops.
He said Amisom needed to be able to put the al Qaida-linked al Shabaab “permanently into retreat”.
Mr Cameron also called for further action against the Somali pirates, calling for the creation of an international taskforce on ransoms.
“Let’s set the ultimate ambition of stopping these payments because in the end they only ensure that crime pays,” he said.
Mr Cameron also stressed the importance of political progress, with the mandate of the existing transitional institutions due to expire in August.
“Somalia is within reach of a new political process that will involve all Somalis and ultimately a new government truly accountable to the demands of its people and properly representative of all Somalia’s regions,” he said.
He said that Britain, Denmark, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands were setting up a local stability fund to provide support from previously neglected regions – including those emerging from terrorist control.
At the same the UK was providing a further £51 million over the next three years to support Somalia refugees who fled the country for neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.
“This will facilitate local people building a network of safer, better governed areas that can gradually put the squeeze on areas still held by al Shabaab,” he said.
The Prime Minister added: “Today is the next stage of a long journey for Somalia and its people but our message to the people of Somalia is that we believe in them and we back them in trying to fix their problems.”
In his opening remarks, Mr Ban said: “We have opened a space for peace and stability in Somalia. It is a small space but it presents an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”
The USA is committing an additional 64 million dollars (£40.7 million) to humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the London conference.
The pledge brings total US emergency aid to the famine-stricken area to 934 million dollars (£594 million) since the start of 2011, with 211 million dollars (£134 million) of that money going towards life-saving programmes in Somalia, she said.
Mrs Clinton voiced America’s backing for programmes to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia and urged all nations to be prepared to prosecute and jail pirates involved in attacks on ships flagged, owned or crewed by their country.
She applauded United Nations programmes to build up Somalia’s judicial and prison systems and said the US was considering offering help to projects to provide young men in areas dominated by pirates with alternative ways to earn a living.
America supports the regional anti-piracy intelligence co-ordination centre set up in the Seychelles and the UK-led international task-force to discourage the payment of ransoms to pirates, she said.
Mrs Clinton told the conference: “As the security and political situation improves, the US will look for ways to increase our involvement in Somalia, including considering a more permanent diplomatic presence.
“We will continue to deliver support of all kinds and to help build a broad and durable partnership with both the Somali government and people.
“For decades, the world focused on what we could prevent from happening in Somalia – conflict, famine and terrorism.
“Now, we are focused on what we can build.
“I think the opportunity is real and now we have to work with the TFG as it transitions out of power to build a durable peace for the Somali people and to support a government that delivers services and offers democracy and prosperity, uniting Somalia after so many years of division and chaos.”