UK pushing for new strategy in Somalia

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United Nations – Britain is trying to galvanise international support for a new military and political strategy in Somalia that would intensify pressure on al-Shabab militants and try to pull the failed Horn of Africa nation back from the grip of pirates and terrorists.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Security Council experts are discussing a new UN resolution that would authorise an increase in the African Union force in Somalia from 12 000 to about 17 700.

Council diplomats said on Thursday the resolution will hopefully be adopted next week – before Britain hosts a conference in London on Feb. 23 where senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organisations are expected to adopt a new international approach to Somalia’s myriad problems.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on Somalia at The Brookings Institution in Washington, called the London conference “an important effort.”

“There is a need to coordinate fundamentally different visions” and “there could be some international strategy that would be very helpful,” she said. “The question is whether much will be accomplished, and right now I’m very sceptical.”

Lyall Grant said Wednesday the purpose of the conference is to take advantage of what Britain sees as “a window of opportunity” created by the military pressure on al-Shabab by a combination of the AU force, known as AMISOM, and Kenyan forces.

Somalia has had transitional administrations for the past seven years but has not had a functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and turned on each other, plunging the impoverished country into chaos.

The weak transitional government has been fighting against al-Shabab, which began as a movement to oust Ethiopian troops from Somalia some six years ago.

Al-Shabab is currently being hit from three sides in Somalia. Currently, the UN-backed government holds the capital, Mogadishu, with the support of 9 500 AMISOM soldiers from Uganda, Djibouti, and Burundi, after largely pushing out al-Shabab fighters. Kenyan forces who moved into Somalia in October are pressuring al-Shabab from the south, and Ethiopian forces are pressuring them from the west. Both nations sent in troops amid concerns that Somalia’s instability will leak over their borders.

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UK seeks backing for Somalia action

Britain is pushing for a United Nations resolution that would help pull Somalia back from the grip of pirates and terrorists.

UN Security Council experts are discussing a strategy that would see the African Union force in Somalia extended from 12,000 to about 17,700 troops.

A spokesman for the UK mission to the UN said it wanted to “take advantage of what we see as a window of opportunity” to render al-Shabab militants “ineffective as a military force”.

A draft resolution is expected to be circulated, with a view to the resolution being adopted on Wednesday, a day before Britain stages a major conference aimed at breaking up the “business model” used by pirates in Somalia.

Senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organisations will attend the London Somali Conference, starting on February 23 and hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which aims to develop a new approach to tackle the threat of piracy.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, has said the purpose of the conference is to take advantage of the opportunity created by the military pressure on al-Shabab by a combination of the AU force, known as Amisom, and Kenyan forces.

Meanwhile, a new state-of-the-art global anti-piracy centre has been unveiled.

The intelligence hub has been set up by analysts Dryad Maritime in Portsmouth, Hampshire, to manage an international response to the threat of pirates which is costing shipping companies millions of pounds each year. The centre is manned round-the-clock by a team of ex-Royal Navy warfare specialists and intelligence experts.

A Dryad Maritime spokeswoman explained: “To seafarers, the centre is a lifeline. It tells them where the pirates are, where they are headed and what they look like. When too close for comfort, the centre warns ships and they are diverted to safer waters.”

Karen Jacques, chief operating officer at Dryad Maritime, said: “We expect the threat from piracy to continue, we are investing heavily in infrastructure and technology to give our clients an outsourced operations centre that rivals any naval force.”

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