Somalia’s government won pledges of at least $213 million in aid overnight 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 US 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, Reuters says.
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 5000, and to bolster the 4300-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 UN-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.
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.
“I know Somalis. Everybody or group wants to do what they want. I hope this won’t be the case now. We Islamists all have a common purpose,” he said in a brief speech.
Government officials did not immediately comment.
Aweys, who has been living in Eritrea, denies any terrorism links. The cleric heads the Asmara-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation (ARS) of Somalia, which he took over from Ahmed.
The president’s aides say he has been trying to have Aweys taken off the US list of terrorist suspects and left some empty seats in a new expanded parliament in case Aweys and his party want to join the government.
Aweys and Ahmed had worked alongside one another in the Islamic Courts Union that ruled Somalia’s capital and much of the south before being forced out by Ethiopia in late 2006.
The two split after Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, went to Djibouti for the U.N.-backed talks at which he was elected.
Reuters adds Aweys this morning said there would be no talks with the transitional government until African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) leave the Horn of Africa nation.
“Let AMISOM leave then we shall have talks with our deceived friends, government officials,” Aweys told opposition supporters in the Somali capital.
“AMISOM is not a peacekeeping force … They are bacteria in Somalia. Somalia has not yet reached peaceful agreement. So be patient. We are left with little time to fight and achieve our Islamic objective,” he told hundreds of supporters.
A 4300-strong AU peacekeeping mission in the Somali capital has faced near-daily attacks. Analysts say the insurgents are preparing to step up assaults on peacekeepers there.
Aweys, who heads the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), arrived in the country on Thursday in his first known trip home since he was ousted by an Ethiopian offensive in late 2006.
Aweys, along with current Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, headed the Islamic Courts Union which controlled Mogadishu and much of the south until Addis Ababa’s December 2006 offensive crushed the burgeoning Islamist movement.