Somali President wins new boost with high-profile EU visit
BRUSSELS - Somalia secured promises of an economic and political "new deal" during a high-profile EU visit by its leader Wednesday that comes days after the government in the Horn of Africa nation formally won US recognition.
Taking Somalia an extra step forward in its return to the international fold, new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met top European Union officials at the start of a two-day visit that includes talks with the EU's 27 foreign ministers on Thursday.
Announcing the EU would host a global conference in the autumn to set out a "new deal" for Somalia, the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton hailed "the beginning of a new era".
"Somalia has come a long way," said Ashton, pointing to a 95 percent drop in piracy off the Somalia coast and the beating back over the past two years of Islamist Shehab insurgents.
EU has funnelled 640 million euros of aid into Somalia over the last five years as part of a three-pronged approach of defence, diplomacy and development, a formula that the bloc is likely to try on beleaguered West African state Mali in the coming weeks, likewise under attack from Islamist fighters.
But Mohamud said the nation now needed to move from being a country "in relief" to one in recovery.
"Somalia is where Europe was in 1945," Mohamud said. "Everything is zero, everything has to be started from scratch. And we cannot do it alone.
"We need the support of the whole international community and in particular the support of the European Union."
At the bloc's headquarters in Brussels, Mohamud met EU president Herman Van Rompuy and Ashton and was to meet later with the head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso.
A university lecturer, Mohamud was elected in September after eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government, raising hopes of an effective central government after more than two decades of chaos and war.
Recent months have seen a 17,000-strong African Union force, fighting alongside government forces -- many of them EU-trained -- and Ethiopian soldiers remove Shehab insurgents from the capital and from key towns.
Last week, EU ministers agreed to extend an EU mission to train Somali soldiers for another two years at a cost of around 11 million euros. Launched in 2010 it has trained some 3,000 Somali troops.
The EU's anti-piracy mission off the Somali coast, EUNAVFOR, has also been extended until December 2014. And the EUCAP Nestor mission assists Somalia and other countries to improve maritime security.
A senior EU official said the visit "symbolises a highly significant shift in the way the world sees Somalia and Somalia sees the world."
"We want to encourage Somalia, say we are with them, that we take them seriously," he added.
He said next steps for Somalia will necessitate a new deal with its global partners to clear its huge financial arrears and put in place international aid programmes to help establish the government's legitimacy.
Mohamud's administration too will need to continue extending control over the territory and improving security while easing testy relations with its neighbours.
Less than two weeks ago Mogadishu took a crucial step on launching a new era in its ties with the United States, which recognised its government for the first time since 1991.
"Today is a milestone. It is not the end of the journey, but it is an important milestone towards that end," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after meeting Mohamud.