LONDON (AP) — Somalia's president urged donors at an international conference Tuesday to provide "considerable investment and support" for his beleaguered government, arguing that the fate of his country and the region hangs in the balance.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and British Prime Minister David Cameron were co-hosting the conference in London that aimed to bolster Mohamud's government in Mogadishu.
"There is a huge amount at stake right now," Mohamud told the delegates. "The future of our country, the security of the region, and the wider world, and the removal of the piracy stranglehold on the Gulf of Aden."
Somalia was expected to detail its plans to develop the country's security forces, justice sector and financial management systems in hopes of getting more international aid.
The British prime minister praised the gains made in Somalia over the past year, saying that extremism is in retreat, piracy attacks are down and the government is moving ahead.
"After two decades of bloodshed and some of the worst poverty on earth, hope is alive in Somalia," Cameron said. "Now it is time to fulfill the hope for the people of Somalia. That is what they have been living and waiting for, and we must not let them down."
Cameron acknowledged that the east African nation still faces huge challenges from poverty, malnourishment and extremism.
"These challenges are not just issues for Somalia," Cameron told the conference. "When young minds are poisoned by radicalism, and they go on to export terrorism and extremism, the security of the whole world, including people here in Britain, is at stake. "
He said support for Somalia must include humanitarian relief and helping the Somali government provide security — which includes protecting women from sexual attacks — as well as stability and services.
Donors should help Somalia develop a transparent government so it can access the funding it needs, Cameron said, adding that Britain will commit 10 million pounds ($15.5 million) to help develop Somalia's armed forces and 14.5 million pounds ($22.5 million) toward increasing the number of police officers and training judges and lawyers.
Delegates at the conference included a number of African heads of state and representatives from the IMF and the World Bank.
The meeting came under harsh criticism from Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate that seeks to overthrow the Mogadishu-based government and install an Islamic one.
Al-Shabab, which counts several hundred foreign fighters among its ranks, controlled Mogadishu from roughly 2006 to 2011 until African Union troops forced it out of the capital. The group still controls wide swaths of south-central Somalia.
Al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr released an audiotape over the weekend in which he called Tuesday's meeting a plot to "plunder" Somalia's mineral wealth "under the guise of international trade relations and fighting corruption." He said the international community wanted to discard Islamic law in Somalia and replace it with Western laws and constitutions.
Zubeyr also urged his followers to increase suicide attacks to "permanently cripple" Mohamud's government. The next day a suicide car bomb attack in the Somali capital killed at least seven people.
Zubeyr blames the area's tensions over land and ethnicity on Britain's colonial-era partitioning of Somalia between Kenya and Ethiopia.
Mohamud, the president, was inaugurated in September at the end of an eight-year U. N.-backed transitional government.
Jason Straziuso in Kenya contributed to this report.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd