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Britain Sees Somalia Conference as Opportunity for 'Most Failed State'

The President of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed (C) speaks, as the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki (L) and Prime Minister of Somalia TFG, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, listen during the London Conference on Somalia, in London, February 23, 2012.

Heads of state and representatives from more than 50 countries are meeting in London to discuss the security and future of Somalia.

Host Britain is calling the conference a moment of opportunity for what they say is the world’s most failed state.

The world had ignored Somalia for too long, said British Prime Minister David Cameron in his opening statement, because the problems were seen as too difficult and too remote.

“That fatalism has failed Somalia and it has failed the international community, too. So today we have an unprecedented opportunity to change that and I believe there is real momentum right now," said Cameron. "International aid has pulled Somalia back from the brink of humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the extraordinary bravery of African and Somali troops, the city of Mogadishu, once beautiful, now a bullet-hole-ridden city has been recovered from al-Shabab. Crucially, across the country al-Shabab are losing the support of ordinary Somalis.”

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Battling al-Shabab

Mogadishu may be under the control of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, aided by African Union troops - but vast areas of southern and central Somalia are held by al-Shabab militants.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more money is needed to spread security beyond the capital.

“We need the surge in Mogadishu to show what is possible in southern and central Somalia. We need to reconsolidate military gains, provide the basic social services and contribute to reconstruction," said Ban. "Sixteen United Nations agencies and our partners are working hard to make progress. But they are underfunded… this is a bold agenda, we have no more time to wait and see. To any donors still wavering, I say get off the fence, help prevent another famine and offer new hope to Somalia.”

Both international and Somali delegates at the conference spoke of the dangers of ignoring the country’s problems. Countering terrorism and piracy are at the top of the agenda of many Western countries.

Funding stability

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said al-Shabab’s recent alliance with al-Qaida poses a danger to the whole world.

“One of the reasons that they apparently agreed to join with al-Qaida is because they think they will obtain more funding from sources that unfortunately still continue to fund al-Qaida," said Clinton. "We must seize this opportunity to strengthen development, particularly in areas recently liberated from al-Shabab. Somalis need to see concrete improvements in their lives.”

The president of the Somali transitional government, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, said peace is the priority after more than two decades of war.

"The people of Somalia, together with the transitional federal government, its regional organizations and its branches, all of them look to the restoration of peace and security, irrespective of the modalities,” said Ahmed.

The United Nations Security Council approved Wednesday the deployment of a further 5,700 African Union troops in Somalia, raising hopes that more territory can be taken from al-Shabab militants.

But delegates in London warn little can be achieved without donors pledging more money.