UN-backed group urges more aid for Somalia peacekeeping

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A UN-backed group on Somalia Tuesday called on the international community to provide more money and equipment to an African Union peacekeeping force in the war-torn country.

European and other nations should increase troop allowances "to UN standards" for the force, known as AMISOM, the International Contact Group for Somalia said in a statement at the end of a two-day meeting in Madrid.

It also called on Somalia's transitional government to integrate the country's soldiers "into an effective chain of command with the assistance of the international community".

The conference was attended by officials from 45 nations and international organisations, including Somalia's President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Ahmed pledged to appoint a new prime minister "in the immediate future" during the gathering and appealed for increased support from the international community to address the country's security problems, the statement added.

The Somalia president named a caretaker prime minister on Friday after Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke resigned from the post earlier in the week after a lengthy power struggle with Ahmed.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who hosted the meeting, said another 2,000 peacekeeping troops were in the process of being added to the AMISOM force to bring it to its initial UN-mandated ceiling of 8,000.

The African Union has agreed to increase the strength of the force to 20,000 but African nations need training, equipment and financing to be able to commit more troops.

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 AU peacekeeping force have struggled to defend government buildings, the port and airport in the capital, Mogadishu, against an offensive by Shebab Islamic extremists.

Shebab, which has links to Al-Qaeda, controls much of central and southern Somalia and is increasingly seen as a regional threat.

Backed by the United Nations, AMISOM is mandated by the African Union to support Somalia's transitional governmental structures, implement a national security plan, train the security forces, and assist in creating a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

© 2010 AFP

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