Somali premier would welcome al-Qaida airstrikes

Associated Press
President of Galmadug, left, Mohamed Ahmed Alin, UN Secretary-Genaral Ban Ki-Moon, center, and President of TFG, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed listen to British Prime Minister David Cameron during a breakfast meeting with representatives of Somalia and UN at 10 Downing Street in London before the Somalia Conference, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, Pool)
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LONDON (AP) — Somalia's prime minister says he would welcome airstrikes against al-Qaida targets in his country.

Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told journalists Thursday the issue of al-Qaida militants based in Somalia was "a global problem and it needs to be addressed globally."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

LONDON (AP) — World leaders pledged new help to Somalia to tackle terrorism and piracy, but insisted Thursday that the troubled east African nation must quickly install a permanent government and threatened penalties against those who hamper political progress.

In a communique scheduled to be issued following the one-day summit, details of which have been supplied to The Associated Press, the group of 55 nations and international organizations said Somalia "remains precarious and in urgent need of support from the international community."

Delegates at the talks, hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, included Somalia's United Nations-backed transitional government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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 nation into chaos.

Clinton said the mandate of Somalia's transitional government must end as planned in August, and warned travel bans and asset freezes could be imposed against those who attempt to hamper progress.

"There must be no further extensions," the conclusions of the summit said, according to a person familiar with the issue who provided details on condition of anonymity because the communique had yet to be officially released. "We agreed to incentivize progress and act against spoilers to the peace process."

Leaders hailed tentative signs of progress in Somalia — with piracy attacks in decline and the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab largely driven out of the capital Mogadishu.

Despite differences expressed over the role of al-Shabab in Somalia's future, the conclusions call for "all those willing to reject violence to join" the country's U.N.-led peace process.

Nations also agreed to "develop a defectors' program to support those who leave armed groups" and pledged to help improve efforts to tackle terrorism and to increase work to stop extremists traveling to and from Somalia.

Cameron said nations continue to be wary that al-Shabab could export terrorism to Europe and the United States, with dozens of British and American citizens traveling to Somalia to train and fight.

"If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so," he told the conference.

In their communique, leaders said the use of private armed guards aboard ships off Somalia's coast had helped disrupt pirate attacks — which saw the shipping industry pay out $135 million in ransoms last year. Pirates currently hold seven vessels and 191 hostages, compared to 32 ships and 661 hostages in January 2011.

Leaders said there "will be no impunity for piracy," and demanded more effort to prosecute those responsible in both Somalia and neighboring countries.

Britain signed an agreement Thursday with Tanzania to handle suspected pirates captured by British vessels.

Research last year by the U.S. Congress found that about nine of 10 piracy suspects detained by international patrols are released without trial.

The communique pledged help from the international community "to prosecute the kingpins of piracy," and halt funding to both pirates and al-Shabab militants. Leaders also expressed concern "that hostages in Somalia are being held longer and with more use of violence," the document said.

In a statement, al-Shabab denounced the conference, claiming it was "aimed at carving up the Somali nation" and vowed to wage war against what it described as a crusade by Western powers.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Martin Benedyk in London, and Katherine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report

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