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African Union appeals for funds to increase AU force in Somalia from 8,000 to 20,000

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The African Union appealed for funds to increase its force in conflict-wracked Somalia from the current 8,000 ceiling to 20,000.

AU executive chairman Jean Ping said after a ministerial mini-summit on Somalia that Uganda is ready to provide the troops to increase the force, but money is needed to pay and equip the soldiers.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon organized Thursday's high-level meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting to spur action on Somalia, which has been a failed state for nearly two decades.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the country into chaos and anarchy. The transitional government, established in 2004, and the 7,100-strong AU peacekeeping force, have struggled to defend government buildings, the port and airport in the capital, Mogadishu, against an offensive by Al-Shabab Islamic extremists.

Somalis have lost faith in the weak central government, which is beset by militias, corruption and infighting. The prime minister resigned Tuesday after a power struggle with the president, saying the political sparring has been detracting from the struggle against Islamic insurgents.

President Mwai Kibaki of neighboring Kenya told the General Assembly "the security situation in Somalia continues to deteriorate and threaten peace and stability across the entire region and beyond."

He called Somalia the greatest threat to international peace and security of any conflict in the world and expressed "great concern" at the international community's "benign neglect" of Somalia and "the perceived reluctance" of the U.N. Security Council to take on the Somali problem. This has led to "many lost opportunities to resolve the crisis," Kibaki said.

In a speech at the opening of the mini-summit, Ban said leaders of the transitional government "must overcome their internal differences, strengthen the security forces and complete the transitional tasks."

He said the government should also focus on delivering basic services to the Somali people, "pay salaries to the security forces and continue efforts to build up the security sector."

The secretary-general said the AU force, known as AMISOM, "is nearing its planned strength of 8,000 troops and is holding its ground."

Mahiga said the U.N. human rights commissioner's office is compiling rights violations, including those behind enemy lines.