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UN Chief: Somalia Needs Urgent Attention

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)

The U.N. Secretary-General is warning that the situation in Somalia requires urgent attention. Ban Ki-moon told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that recent military gains made by the Transitional Federal Government with support from African Union troops are "fragile" and that the humanitarian situation is "dire."

Mr. Ban told the 15-member council that if the international community acts now it can consolidate recent gains made by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and set Somalia, which has suffered from two decades of violence and lawlessness, on a more promising course.

"We must help them sustain these gains in order to restore security and deliver basic services, humanitarian aid and support for recovery and reconstruction. Such improvements for the people of Somalia and the thousands of internally displaced persons in zones controlled by the TFG are critical to sustaining the hard-fought military gains," he said.

Dozens of peacekeepers from the force known as AMISOM have died in recent fighting with Al-Shabab militants. But the Secretary-General said AMISOM and TFG forces have succeeded in opening new fronts in southern Somalia and taken control of major towns previously held by the insurgents.

Mr. Ban said the 8,000-strong AMISOM force could be more effective, if it were better equipped, and he urged the international community to step up its funding and contributions.

AMISOM is mandated to have as many as 12,000 soldiers, and the secretary-general, as well as Security Council members and the prime minister of Somalia, called for the additional 4,000 troops requested last year to be deployed as soon as possible.

Mr. Ban also expressed his concern about the threat of piracy along the Somalia coast, calling it a "grave and growing menace." Last month, four Americans were killed by their pirate captors, and a Danish family is currently among the dozens of hostages being held separately by the pirate gangs that operate off the country’s coast.

The secretary-general also said the unfolding drought is another area of concern. The U.N. refugee agency reports some 50,000 persons have been displaced by the drought during the past two months, and that number could grow if April rains fail.

Somalia’s prime minister, Mohamed Abdulahi Mohamed, said his transitional government, which will end in August, is working hard to improve security, enhance reconciliation, complete the transitional process - including drafting a constitution - address the humanitarian crisis and promote good governance.

He appealed to the international community for medical and food assistance to help Somalis displaced by the violence and drought. A U.N. humanitarian appeal of $529 million for Somalia is only a quarter funded.

For its part, the Security Council adopted a statement stressing the need for a comprehensive strategy to encourage peace and stability. The council expressed its concern over the worsening humanitarian situation, condemned terrorism and piracy, and encouraged the swift deployment of the mandated 4,000 additional AMISOM troops to Somalia.

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