- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2012

LONDON (AP) — World leaders pledged new help to Somalia to tackle terrorism and piracy, but they insisted Thursday that the troubled East African nation must install a permanent government quickly and threatened penalties against those who hamper political progress.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking after the one-day summit, said he hoped the conference would be a “turning point in achieving stability, greater security and greater prosperity for Somalia, for the region and for the world.”

Delegates at the talks, which counted representatives from 55 nations and international organizations, included Somalia‘s United Nations-backed transitional government, United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years but has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on one another, plunging the nation into chaos.

Mrs. Clinton said the mandate of Somalia‘s transitional government must end as planned in August, and she warned that travel bans and asset freezes could be imposed against those who attempt to hamper progress.

“This timetable will be stuck to. There will be no further extensions,” Mr. Cameron told reporters following the conference. “We will hold the Somalis to this.”

In a communique seen by the Associated Press, leaders hailed tentative signs of progress in Somalia — with piracy attacks in decline and the al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab largely driven out of the capital, Mogadishu.

Despite differences expressed over the role of al-Shabab in Somalia‘s future, the conclusions call for “all those willing to reject violence to join” the country’s U.N.-led peace process.

Nations also agreed to “develop a defectors’ program to support those who leave armed groups” and pledged to help improve efforts to tackle terrorism and to increase work to stop extremists traveling to and from Somalia.

In remarks to reporters, Mr. Cameron said a coalition of countries was working to set up a new international task force intended to clamp down on ransom payments, which have helped feed the piracy problem.

International forces already patrol the waters off the Somali coast, but Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said he was open to even more aggressive international involvement in his country’s fight against al-Shabab, which Mr. Cameron warned could export terrorism to Europe and the United States.

Mr. Ali said that he supported international airstrikes against al Qaeda militants in his country because they were “a global problem” that “needs to be addressed globally.”

He emphasized Thursday that he wanted the airstrikes to be properly targeted.

“That’s what we support,” Mr. Ali said, “not necessarily killing innocent lives.”

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Martin Benedyk in London and Katherine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this article.

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