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World must act now to bring peace to war-torn Somalia, says Ban

World must act now to bring peace to war-torn Somalia, says Ban

A group of IDPs in Mogadishu
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the world to move quickly to bring peace to Somalia, telling an international conference on the Horn of Africa country that a failure to act now risks expanding the violence to its neighbours and beyond.

“One thing is certain. If we do not redouble our efforts, there will be little chance for peace in Somalia,” he told the conference, citing the urgent needs to give humanitarian aid to 3.2 million people, set up a legal framework to bring pirates operating off the Somali coast to justice, and accelerate reconstruction by involving the Somali business community at home and abroad.

The three-day international conference, being held in Istanbul and co-hosted by the United Nations and Turkey, is examining Somalia’s political, security and reconstruction needs, a year after a similar summit was held in Brussels.

“We are here today to start making that change – by considering the challenges Somalia faces and the opportunities it presents,” Mr. Ban said.

He warned that continuing conflict in Somalia – “one of the world’s most intractable crises [where] for 20 years conflict over power, resources and land has destroyed lives, created hundreds of thousands of orphans and devastated communities” – is attracting extremist elements from outside the country and radical young Somalis from the diaspora, posing a threat to Somalia, neighbouring countries and beyond.

The humanitarian crisis is dire with 3.2 million people, more than 40 per cent of the population in need of aid, 1.4 million of them internally displaced persons (IDPs). “I urge the international community to do everything possible to make sure they receive the help they need,” he said.

Turning to rampant piracy off the Somali coast, in which dozens of ships, including those carrying UN food aid, have been seized, Mr. Ban said he would soon submit a report on options for prosecuting and imprisoning the pirates as requested by the Security Council. He also urged the donor community and the shipping industry to contribute generously to a UN Trust Fund set up to support prosecution of suspects.

“But despite these serious problems, it is not too late. We must recognize the opportunities in the current situation,” he noted, stressing that for the first time in two decades, when Somalia last had a functioning central government, there is some progress towards stability, with former adversaries participating in an internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

Despite some internal divisions, this Government has survived repeated attacks by extremists, and remains committed to peace and reconciliation, he added, citing a recent cooperation accord with the moderate Ahlu Sunna Wal Jammah group as a blueprint for other opposition groups to build on.

“The Transitional Federal Government represents Somalia’s best chance in years to escape from the endless cycle of war and humanitarian disaster,” he said. “The only way to restore stability is to support this Government, both in its reconciliation efforts and, where necessary, its fight against extremism. If the international community acts now, I think we can make a difference.”

In return, he urged the Somali authorities to demonstrate the will and commitment to work together, resolve internal disputes, unite against the threat of extremism, and start to deliver improved services to the Somali people, pay salaries to the security forces and continue efforts to build up security sector institutions.

Turning to the vital issue of reconstruction, he called the Somali business community a large part of the answer, “Somalia’s business leaders, both inside the country and in the diaspora, are one of its main assets,” he said. “They should play a key role in the reconstruction phase of the peace process.”

He emphasized that one of the most important aims of investment and increased commercial activity must be to generate jobs, particularly for young people, and give them an alternative to joining armed extremist groups or piracy.

“Helping Somalia to recover is clearly a significant challenge,” he concluded. “But it is not insurmountable.”

Participants in the conference issued the Istanbul Declaration at the end of the event, reiterating their commitment to “improve the lives and security of the Somali people, foster reconciliation, human rights and good governance, increase access to basic services, initiate reconstruction activities and set Somalia firmly on the path to peace and sustainable development.”

They also stressed the need to keep the Djibouti Peace Process and transition on track, to continue the training of Somali security forces and to press for greater efforts at economic development.

In addition the Declaration commended the work of the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as AMISOM, which continues to operate “despite very difficult and dangerous circumstances.”

At a joint press conference with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu, Mr. Ban said he felt “a strong sense of purpose and urgency” following the discussions at the conference.

“Our two-fold message today is consistent and clear. First, despite the risks or setbacks, the United Nations and the international community at large will not stand by and watch Somalia struggle alone. Second, if we do not tackle the basic causes onshore we will never be able to stop piracy offshore.

“Our collective aim is to defeat the cycle of lawlessness, violence and despair in Somalia and to build in its place a peaceful and prosperous future for the country and the region.”