* 40 nations seek to coordinate action on pirates, militants
* Sceptics suspect it will be another talking shop
* Somali hopes raised by new interest from Turkey, Gulf
By William Maclean
LONDON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - African, Arab and Western nations worried by
Somalia's turmoil meet on Thursday to coordinate efforts against militants
and pirates seen as growing threats to global security and ramp up measures
to end famine and clan violence.
Sceptics say the London conference of 40 countries including U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon risks
producing fine words but no action: They point to ineffective similar
gatherings in the past 20 years involving a corrupt Somali elite skilled in
extracting support from Western aid bureaucrats and foreign peacekeepers.
But the British organisers have sought to temper expectations, explaining
that the aim of the event is to galvanise policymakers' attention on Somalia
to better coordinate a sometimes disjointed international response.
It will not delve far into the details of Somalia's clan-based politics,
which play a complex role in everything from business and piracy to the
distribution of humanitarian aid.
Nevertheless, Somalis who have known nothing but war, famine and
blunder-prone international intervention for decades cannot help but hope
for something that will improve their lives.
"The expectations that Somalis have are huge," Mogadishu-based civic
activist Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle of Somalia's Center for Research and
Dialogue think tank told Reuters.
"You have so many external actors driving different agendas that it would be
a success to have a unified stance. Above all we need implementation of
what's agreed, as disappointed hopes will only bring more radicalisation and
Somalia collapsed into feuding between rival warlords, clans and factions
after Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Up to a million people have since
been killed, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross
The weak Western-backed interim government, which holds only a few areas, is
fighting a revolt by al Shabaab militants who recently merged with al Qaeda
and harbour dozens of Western volunteers seen as a threat to Western
Moses Wetangula, foreign minister of neighbouring Kenya, told Reuters he
wanted to see "a renewed and reinvigorated international commitment to
"We hope it's not going to be the usual talking shop where we make flowery
speeches and get clapped and go away without caring whether it will be
followed up or not. I hope we will have a commitment to assist the warring
factions in Somalia to instil a sense of peace and working together."
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) got a boost on the eve of
the conference when the U.N. Security Council voted to boost by nearly half
an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, seeking to press home a
military offensive against al Shabaab.
The resolution increasing the AMISOM force to 17,731 from 12,000 troops and
police passed the council unanimously.
The UK Foreign Office said Thursday's meeting could build on "this good
news, setting out a comprehensive international approach to Somalia covering
politics, development, security, as well as our work to combat terrorism and
The force, which first entered Somalia in 2007, has claimed a series of
recent successes against al Shabaab's fighters who had seized much of the
east African country's center and south. Last August, AMISOM wrested control
of the capital, Mogadishu.
In a further setback for the rebels, Ethiopian and Somali forces on
Wednesday captured the stronghold of Baidoa in the south. Ethiopian troops
moved into Somalia in November but will not come under AMISOM and are
expected to withdraw eventually.
Diplomats say a key concern is ensuring the broadest possible support for
Somali constitutional discussions in the run up to the Aug. 20 expiry of the
TFG's mandate, by which time it should have enacted a new basic law and held
Critics say without elections, the next administration will just be
Somalia's 16th transitional government since 1991.
A senior U.S. official told reporters traveling with Clinton the United
States may slap travel restrictions on Somalis in and out of the TFG, as
well as possibly on citizens of neighbouring nations, who obstruct the
"We would contemplate imposing ... travel restrictions and visa bans on
individuals who serve as spoilers in the political process," said the
official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Somalia expert Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council said similar conferences
in the past had pretended that "Somalia is still a state when it has long
ceased to be one."
"The only result this has produced is to incentivise the rent-seeking
behaviour and corruption of so-called officials incapable of restoring a
modicum of security and governance ... What is needed is a 'bottom-up'
For more conference coverage, click on (Additional reporting by Adrian
Croft, Peter Apps, Jonathan Saul, Richard Lough, Patrick Worsnip, Arshad
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Feb 23 2012 - 14:39:41 EST