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US Boosts Ties with Breakaway Somali Regions

The United States says it plans to strengthen ties with two breakaway regions in Somalia to try to undercut a growing threat from Islamist extremists.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said Friday the United States will begin what he called an aggressive engagement with the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.

Carson said the United States does not plan to recognize either government as an independent state, but would help them with agriculture, water, health and education projects.

He said the increased cooperation could prevent the spread of extremism and radicalism espoused by the al-Qaida linked al-Shabab militia.

Carson said the United States would also reach out to groups in south-central Somalia that are opposed to al-Shabab but are also not aligned with the transitional government in Mogadishu.

Somalia has not had a stable central government since 1991. Somalia's transitional government only controls small sections of Mogadishu, with the help of AU peacekeepers.

Islamist militants control most of the capital and large parts of southern and central Somalia. They have been trying to topple the government to set up a strict Islamic state.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.