Italy offered on Thursday to help form an anti-terrorist police force for Somalia and urged other international donors to fulfil pledges of support for the beleaguered government in the Horn of Africa nation
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters after meeting Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed that Italian military police, or Carabinieri, were ready to train such a force in neighbouring Kenya.
Two rebel groups hold sway in much of southern and central Somalia and the government controls only a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu, propped up by a 5000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, Amisom.
Western nations say the chaos in Somalia, which has lacked central government since 1991, is giving Islamist militants a safe haven to train and plot attacks in the region and beyond.
“We offered to President Sharif to form a very robust anti-terrorist police for Somalia,” said Frattini after their talks in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
The Amisom force has prevented insurgents from overrunning the capital and driving out the Western-backed government, but government troops have made little headway against the rebels.
Fighting since the start of 2007 has killed more than 21 000 Somalis and driven 1.5 million from their homes. Washington accuses one rebel group al Shabaab of being al Qaeda’s proxy in the country.
The chaos on land has also allowed piracy to flourish in the busy shipping lanes off Somalia. The International Maritime Bureau said there were 217 attacks last year by Somali pirates.
Washington sent weapons to the government last year, but poor morale among pro-government forces, who complain of not being paid, has led to some of the supplies ending up in Mogadishu’s main arms market near a rebel stronghold.
Concerns about corruption and a lack of reliable mechanisms for distributing financial support also mean pledges by other Western governments have not always been carried out.
Frattini said Italy was also ready to give Amisom money to help it train police in Mogadishu, and pay their salaries.
Earlier Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki had urged Frattini to lobby members of the International Contact Group on Somalia to provide resources to help stabilise the turbulent country.
Kenya hosts some 300 000 Somali refugees in refugee camps and there is a significant Somali community in Nairobi. There have been reports of rebel supporters recruiting fighters and young suicide bombers from the diaspora within Kenya.
“The danger of terrorists has become very big in Somalia so we asked the government of Italy how they can help security by helping build government institutions,” President Ahmed, himself a former Islamist rebel, told reporters.
Pic: Somali insurgent cleaning his weapon