ISTANBUL – International forces cannot solve Somalia's security problems in the long term and the fragile country needs its own strong force to do the job, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday.
Ban spoke spoke at a conference in Istanbul that aims to support Somalia in a transition process calling for a new constitution and parliament, and the election of a president, by Aug. 20. The Horn of Africa nation dissolved into anarchy in 1991 and has endured conflict and deprivation ever since. African Union troops have helped Somalia's transitional government in its fight against al-Shabab, an Islamic militant group with links to al-Qaida.
While significant gains have been made in that fight, Ban said the international community must help Somalia build its own security apparatus, establish the rule of law and shed a pervasive culture of impunity.
"In the face of terrorism, piracy and drought, Somalia needs solidarity," Ban said. "Partners have to step up and do their part."
National reconstruction aside, international donors rushed last year to provide food aid to Somalia after a famine was declared, and the United Nations said donations of food and cash saved half a million lives in the second half of 2011. But reports of looting and diversion of humanitarian supplies pointed to endemic corruption in one of the world's poorest countries.
Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told the conference that Somalia doesn't have a national army and needs military training.
"We need to have a realistic state structure," he said. "These things are not easy at all because we are facing major problems, and especially the terrorists continue with their activities, and the clashes from tensions have hindered our efforts during the transition period."
Al-Shabab is suspected in a bomb attack Monday in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, that killed one person and wounded more than 30. Kenya is involved in the fight against the Somali militants and announced this week that it had captured a rebel-held town in southern Somalia. Al-Shabab and al-Qaida formally joined organizations earlier this year, though the ties between the groups were already strong. Al-Shabab counts hundreds of foreign fighters among its ranks, including militants with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga, said there were reports that militants were fleeing to mountain hideouts in Somalia's semiautonomous region of Puntland. He also said it was vital for Somalia's militia groups to be integrated into the country's fledgling forces so they can "assume control and protection of liberated areas," and that military action against pirates who prey on international shipping was also key to national security.
As an example, he cited actions this month by European Union naval forces, which used attack helicopters in their first onshore raid on a suspected pirate lair in Somalia. A pirate said that strike destroyed a supply center and set back operations.
The EU is the main donor to the Somali transitional government. It also trains Somali army troops, and is reinforcing the navies of five neighboring countries to enable them to counter piracy themselves. The long coastline of war-ravaged Somalia provides a perfect haven for pirate gangs that target shipping off the East African coast.
Ban also urged Somalia's leaders to "keep human rights at the center of the political process," stick to commitments to allot 30 percent of the 225 seats in the new parliament to women, and ensure freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. He cited the shooting death earlier in May of a Somali journalist, the sixth to be slain in the country this year.