ADDIS ABABA The worsening crisis in Somalia is as big a threat to global security as Afghanistan but is being ignored by the world, delegates told an African Union summit on Sunday.
Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government is fighting an Islamist insurgency and has been hemmed into a few streets of the capital Mogadishu.
An African Union (AU) peacekeeping force of 5,000, provided by Burundi and Uganda, is struggling to hold back the rebels. The AU has repeatedly asked for U.N. peacekeepers to bolster its efforts but has only been given funding.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the AU's annual summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday and again failed to pledge peacekeepers.
"In Somalia, recent events have tragically shown that the conflict has a direct bearing on global security," Ban told about 30 African leaders.
Later at a news briefing, Ban said the United Nations was still considering "whether conditions are right for a peacekeeping operation."
Violence in Somalia has killed 21,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and uprooted 1.5 million people, a contributing cause of one of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies.
Heavily armed pirates from the lawless Horn of Africa nation are terrorizing shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and strategic Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia.
Ramtane Lamamra, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security said Somalia was now as big a threat to global security as Afghanistan and should not be ignored.
"The international terrorism is the same and there is the link to the same mother organization, al Qaeda," Lamamra said. "And there is also piracy."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told delegates he admired the work of the AU in Somalia but that it was not "sufficient."
"If we do not support the transitional government more, Somalia could become a place that could destroy humanity," Zapatero said in Spanish.
"The proper response is a strong response from the international community, led by the U.N. Somalia is suffering."
Al Qaeda's Yemen-based branch became a global security priority after it said it was behind a failed December 25 attack on a U.S. airliner, and concerns have been raised about its ties to Somalia's al Shabaab militants.
The West has said it is concerned Somalia could turn into an al Qaeda training camp and launch pad for international attacks, a role played by Afghanistan in the run-up to the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Delegates will discuss Somalia alongside the conflict in Sudan and Africa's four coups this year at the three-day summit that ends on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Janet Lawrence)