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Somali PM Pledges Action in Face of Humanitarian Catastrophe


Somalia Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein is promising to help speed delivery of relief to desperately needy citizens, as humanitarian agencies warn of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in the war-ravaged nation. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the Somali leader made the comment in Addis Ababa, where he was discussing security issues with African Union officials.

Prime Minister Hussein says he fully agrees with the assessment of 40 aid agencies that urgent action is needed to avoid a catastrophe in a country where one million people are displaced, two million need daily assistance, and half a million are totally reliant on humanitarian aid.

He gave no details, but pledged to appoint what he called a certain "mechanism" to speed aid deliveries hampered by security failures and coordination breakdowns.

"We definitely agree there are difficulties in relation to access," he said. "We will appoint focal point for humanitarian contacts, humanitarian assistance. Operations will be facilitated by a mechanism we will put in place, and agreement with the humanitarian operators."

The Somali prime minister acknowledged news reports that heavily-armed Islamic insurgents briefly seized control of the southern agricultural town of Jowhar in a surprise attack. The insurgents killed several soldiers before retreating.

Mr. Hussein said order has been restored.

"This morning there was a hit and run attack on Jowhar by a group opposing the government admin of Jowhar authority," he added. "They attacked, hit and run operations. The administration in Jowhar is there, and law and order was re-established and everything is going smoothly right now."

Prime Minister Hussein was in Addis to discuss security issues with AU officials on the eve of a U.N. Security Council meeting on Somalia. The African Union has a 2,300-member peacekeeping mission, known as AMISOM, supporting Somalia's transitional government, along with a slightly larger force of Ethiopian troops.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week it is unlikely U.N. peacekeepers will be sent to Somalia to support the strained African Union force already in place.

Prime Minister Hussein says he remains hopeful the Security Council will see progress that would bolster the case for establishing a U.N. mission in the near future.

"We are eagerly expecting to have these U.N. peacekeeping forces," he added. "Definitely. We are very happy that our AMISOM troops are providing security services, and Ethiopian troops are also helping us. Somali institutional security forces are being formed, trained and with the support of some friendly countries, Italy, we are trying to re-establish our security institutions and capacity."

During his visit, the prime minister accepted an Italian contribution of more than $50 million to train and equip Somali security forces. In presenting the contribution, senior Italian diplomat Armando Sanguini spoke hopefully of "light at the end of the tunnel" in efforts to establish security in Somalia. But he acknowledged that the transitional government in Mogadishu needs "substantial help" to establish an effective police force.