Somali president accuses world of balking at aid

Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:57pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Somalia's president on Wednesday accused the international community of refusing to fund the creation of local security forces capable of tackling piracy and al Qaeda-linked militants and urged them to pay up.

"The international community spends millions of dollars (because of piracy) and when you ask them to contribute to building forces on the ground they evade our request," Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a conference on piracy in Dubai.

Somalia has been mired in civil strife, grinding poverty, Islamist militancy and maritime piracy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, leaving the African nation without an effective central government.

Ahmed said he thought international donors such as the United States were reluctant to contribute funds because they were concerned that the money would be embezzled and said he was willing to allow them to pay and train such forces themselves to allay such fears.

"If they (donors) are willing to help ... we can give them the chance to come and do the training, to give salaries to soldiers by themselves," he said.

Ahmed's complaint came as it was announced that the United Arab Emirates has pledged to donate $1 million to help build a Somali coast guard. Anwar Gargash, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs, confirmed the news to reporters.

Piracy is just one of many problems plaguing Somalia. Ahmed's Western-backed government has been fighting al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants who still control large swathes of the country and want to impose sharia law.

Ahmed, who survived an assassination attempt by al Shabaab militants last month, has pledged to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates in the war-ravaged country.

"Uprooting Shabaab can only be done through building the capabilities of the Somali military, Somali intelligence," he said.

AL QAEDA THREAT

His government also needed funds to help integrate hundreds of former Shabaab members who had renounced their former affiliation, he said, adding that the government was already rehabilitating more than 500 former fighters.

"It was mostly extremists who wouldn't accept negotiations and they were members of al Qaeda, but we've been able to include a great number of al Shabaab in our side," he said.

Asked whether Shabaab and the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were closing ranks after Yemeni forces drove Islamist militants from several cities in the south, Ahmed said they were all part of the same group.

Yemeni officials spearheading a U.S.-backed offensive against Islamist militants have repeatedly identified Somali fighters among the casualties.

Ahmed said the threat from al Qaeda was far from over: "As far as we know, militants who were in Afghanistan started moving to Somalia and Yemen and this adds a lot of burden on us".

Ahmed's interim federal government is tasked with adopting a new constitution by August, aimed in part at redefining the relationship between Mogadishu and the regions and ending the cycle of violence.

He said parliamentary elections were also due in August.

His government last month held talks in London with the breakaway enclave of Somaliland for the first time since the entity declared its independence from Somalia in 1991.

"We are working towards bringing Somalia back to its natural unity, I have no doubts about our success," he said. "What we've agreed on is to start negotiations."

Asked whether the two sides discussed uniting in a federation or a confederation, he said: "We're discussing the important issues now."

Somaliland has enjoyed relative stability compared to the rest of Somalia, and has held a series of peaceful general elections.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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