Donors step up ties with Somalia; praise rebuilding efforts

Major Western donors have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to reengage with Somalia, opening the way for increased development assistance to a country trying to shake off years of conflict.
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A senior British official said in Washington that London will host a conference with the new Somali government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on May 7. The meeting will focus on rebuilding the security forces, police, and justice system and discuss resuming relations with the World Bank.

Somalia has been mired in civil strife for more than two decades, leaving the African nation in grinding poverty, militancy and maritime piracy, without a functioning central government.

"Part of the challenge of mine is to communicate really the degree of opportunity and success that has happened so far in Somalia - mixed with a fairly hard-nosed realism about some of the old challenges that still exist there," said Nick Kay, Africa Director at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Kay said Somalia was the top priority in Africa for Britain, which planned to reopen its embassy in the capital, Mogadishu, in the coming months.

Rajiv Shah, the head of USAID, traveled to Mogadishu for talks with the government last week, the first visit by a senior U.S. official in more than two decades. It was also the first since the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" incident in which militia fighters shot down two U.S. military helicopters over the city.

Shah told reporters during a conference call that his talks with senior Somali officials focused on transparency of government finances, corruption and restoring basic services.

"As long as the government continues to emphasize and make the right choices to fight corruption and graft, to make its public finances extremely transparent, and to focus on providing the kinds of basic services that the people and economy will need to be effective over time, we think there is a very bright future and I saw some very real tangible signs of that," he said.

The United States would work with the World Bank to help Somalia clear its $250 million in debt, which is preventing the bank from providing loans to the government, Shah said. "Now is the unique moment to help the Somali government."

While the United States never formally severed diplomatic ties with Somalia, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled a significant shift in relations when she officially recognized Mohamud

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