- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) - Pirates are constantly attacking ships off the coast of lawless Somalia despite naval patrols by more than a dozen nations. On land, an extremist Islamic group is targeting African Union peacekeepers and humanitarian workers.

What can be done to bring law and order after 18 years to a country where men use guns to resolve disputes and make a living?

Diplomats and security experts will try to resolve this question at a two-day meeting on Somalia that starts Wednesday in Brussels.

The conference is not focusing on piracy _ but the subject is impossible to ignore.

International donors aim to raise millions to help anarchic Somalia build up its weak security and peacekeeping forces on land, hoping that will reduce the rampant banditry plaguing the world’s mariners.

Reinforcing the African Union peacekeeping force already in Somalia will be the topic of the day Wednesday, while the main international donor meeting starts Thursday.

There have been other meetings to discuss how Somalia can be reconstructed but this is the first one where donors will be expected to make financial pledges or offer equipment to help reconstruct Somalia’s security apparatus.

The clan-ruled country’s government only controls a few blocks in the capital and one other town but has allies who control central Somalia and part of the south. The ill-equipped 4,300-man A.U. peacekeeping force has always had a restricted mandate to protect government installations and key officials in the Somali capital, which has left the general security in the hands of a variety of militias.

The United Nations aims to build up a national army of 6,000 soldiers and a police force of 10,000 in the future _ at a cost of $31 million per year.

The police program was halted in 2007 and 2008 because of suspected fraud, but it has since resumed. The key donors to that program have been the European Commission, France, Norway, Sweden, UK and the United States.

According to the UN Political Office for Somalia, if the conference were to meet its goals of raising at least euro200 million ($260 million) the Somali transitional government would have the means to fund the establishment of a national security force of 6,000 members and a 10,000-strong police force.

Those expected to attend include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, top EU officials, the heads of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League and commanders of the AU force in Somalia and the EU anti-piracy flotilla.

Mohammed Affey, a former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, described the conference as a welcome development because he says up to now the world’s governments have “just been dealing with the symptoms.”

“A lot of people who have been involved in the Somali peace process have lost faith in these kind of meetings because there is no follow-up,” Affey told The Associated Press. “Piracy and crime of any nature can only be stopped by Somalis, because foreign intervention cannot be a long-term solution.”

Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke told the AP that his government plans to deploy soldiers and intelligence agents at 10 or more observation posts along the country’s 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer) coastline to prevent pirates from going to sea.

At the United Nations in New York, Somalia’s deputy ambassador Idd Beddel Mohamed said his country also wanted help in rebuilding its navy.

Somalia disintegrated in 1991 when its president was overthrown. It has since suffered through famine, failed U.S. and U.N. humanitarian missions, and nearly two decades of civil war.

Foreign fishing trawlers took advantage of Somalia’s lawlessness to poach the chaotic country’s rich waters. Countless fisherman morphed into pirates as they tried to defend their overfished waters, and now the country’s top pirate leaders are more powerful than the government.

___

Associated Press Writers Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report from Brussels and Edith Lederer from the United Nations in New York.

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