President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud accused the Al Shabaab militants
of trying to create food shortages in newly "liberated areas" to
turn locals against the state - and said the aid would show people
the benefit of returning to government control.
"This is the Al Shabaab propaganda ... and why they are stopping the
movement of goods," he said in Mogadishu after talks with major
donors on Friday on speeding up the pace of the rebuilding effort.
"(An) airlift is very, very important."
African troops working with Somalia's army have completed the first
phase of a campaign to retake territory still in Al Shabaab's hands
after it was routed from Mogadishu in 2011.
But officials said the towns cleared of Al Shabaab militants are in
a dire state. Any food stocks have been emptied, driving people
away. Some centers look more like ghost towns, said one Western
diplomat, which "is not a very positive picture".
It highlights the challenge Somalia faces in countering an Islamist
insurgency that increasingly involves guerrilla tactics, while
trying to build loyalty to central government in a state fractured
by clan rivalries and two decades of war.
The president said another obstacle to reaching retaken areas was
the onset of rains, making poor quality roads impassable even in
places Al Shabaab were not operating.
He said donors had promised to respond, adding that helicopters were
not needed to make a "huge food delivery" but were required for
basic nutrition for children and the weak.
The World Food Programme was considering contracting a helicopter
dedicated to humanitarian needs, as U.N. helicopters in Somalia now
have multiple tasks, including logistical support for troops, such
as evacuating injured, the diplomat said.
Although the first stage of the new campaign launched this year had
not met all targets, Mohamud said 3 million people and nine towns
had been brought under government control. He said Al Shabaab still
controlled "a large proportion of rural areas".
Extending control beyond urban centers and into the countryside
where rebels easily melt away has been a persistent challenge for
African Union peacekeepers, who are still the main bulwark against
rebels although Somali troops fight with them.
GRUMBLES ABOUT PROGRESS
"The second phase of the operation of course will focus on sifting
out Al Shabaab even from the rural areas," Mohamud said.
The slow pace of change in the nation and ongoing hardship for many
has fuelled criticism of the president, prompting a group of more
than 100 lawmakers to submit a petition this week demanding he quit.
Security failings were a big complaint.
The president rebuffed parliamentary critics, saying new joint
operations between Somali security agencies and African forces was
breaking down rebel networks in Mogadishu, where a spike in attacks
particularly around February included an assault on the presidential
palace in the heart of the city.
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"Security should not be politicized," he said, adding it was tough
to stop all suicide attacks in a city of 2 million people.
has also been buffeted by criticism of his government's financial
management, after two central bank governors quit last year with
questions raised about graft in government and the award of some
The government has dismissed reports of corruption.
But the president said a new Financial Governance Committee
comprising three Somali members and three picked by donors, was
restoring confidence. Diplomats said reviewing contracts and
offering recommendations on such issues were part of its mission.
"International partners showed that they are now more confident in
the system than before, and further reforms will be coming in the
financial sector," Mohamud said after Friday's talks, adding he
hoped for more direct budget support.
Qatar and Turkey already provide direct aid to state coffers, but
Western donors are more wary. Norway supports budget spending via a
facility set up with World Bank help that, one donor source said,
could be expanded in coming months.
Despite a wobble in international support for Mohamud over financial
management concerns in past months, donors at Friday's showed
support for the president in his battle with lawmakers, saying
Somalia needed continuity at the top.
"The idea of delaying everything or stopping everything and changing
institutions and people at this stage is not something that any of
the international partners were thinking is a very good idea," said
one senior Western diplomat at the talks.
Attendees at Friday's talks promised to speed up delivery of
projects in several key areas, such as security, humanitarian work
and financial management issues, by June in part to help ease public
dissatisfaction about the pace of progress.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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