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Somalia 'New Deal' to drive recovery from civil war

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    A Somali woman walks on a street in Mogadishu December 12, 2007. International donors began work on a "New Deal" for Somalia to drive its economic and political recovery after two decades of bloody civil war. (AFP/File)

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    Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (left) and Belgian Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders shake hands before a bilateral meeting at the Egmont Palace in Brussels on September 16, 2013. International donors began work on a "New Deal" for Somalia to drive its economic and political recovery after two decades of bloody civil war. (Belga/AFP)

International donors began work Monday on a "New Deal" for Somalia to drive its economic and political recovery after two decades of bloody civil war.

EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud faced one of "the most difficult challenges in the world".

"I hope this will be a really significant moment" for Somalia, Ashton said as she went into the meeting with the president.

Mohamud said he was "very grateful" for all the effort made on behalf of his country, highlighting four priorities among the many tasks ahead -- security, legal reform, public finances and economic recovery.

Some 50 high-level delegations from Africa, Europe and the Gulf are attending the one-day meeting in Brussels, along with aid groups and global finance institutions.

In January, Mohamud won the first formal US recognition of a Somali government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre sparked a bitter civil war.

Over the past year, the government and parliament have worked without interruption but are not yet strong enough to secure international loans and are therefore dependent on grants.

The New Deal Compact to be approved Monday sets out the government priorities and outlines future international support.

Ashton said the deal was "the beginning of a long road".

But Somalia's hardline Islamist Shebab rebels, which control wide swathes of southern Somalia, on Monday dismissed the conference as a "Belgian waffle" and a waste of time.

"It's a bit like Belgian Waffles: sweet on the outside but really has not much substance to it. They are just hollow promises of Kufr", or infidels, the group said on Twitter.

High on the agenda in are plans to get one million children into school in a country that has one of the world's lowest enrolment rates -- with only four of every ten children in class.

Between 2008 and 2013, the European Union provided 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) in aid -- 521 million euros in development cooperation and 697 million euros for security.

Most security funding went to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), comprising some 17,000 troops and launched in 2007 with UN Security Council approval.

It props up the government in Mogadishu and has fought alongside its army, seizing a string of towns from the Islamist Shebab rebels.

In recent months, however, several deadly Shebab attacks have dented confidence.

In June, a suicide commando assault on a fortified UN compound in the centre of Mogadishu killed 11.

And at least 18 people were killed in Mogadishu on September 7 when two blasts rocked a popular restaurant, an attack quickly claimed by the Shebab.

With insecurity growing, in August medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) closed all its operations in Somalia, after 22 years of working in the Horn of Africa troublespot.

As well as a military training mission in Somalia, the EU runs an anti-piracy operation off the Somali coast, where attacks on shipping have fallen steadily in the past year.

Mohamud's government came to power last September after more than a decade of transitional rule.