24 May - Fresh from sponsoring an international conference aimed at forging a new approach to bring peace to war-torn Somalia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said yesterday's attack on the presidential palace there underscored both the urgency and the scale of the challenge.

Noting that the conference in Istanbul, Turkey, was “an important event at a crucial time for Somalia,” he stressed that the United Nations would be steadfast in its support for efforts to bring stability to the impoverished Horn of Africa country that has been torn apart by factional violence and has had no functioning central government for two decades.

“The Istanbul Declaration sent a clear three-fold message,” he told a news conference in New York, referring to the final statement at the three-day conference, co-hosted by the UN and Turkey. “First, the United Nations will not stand by and watch Somalia struggle alone.

“Second, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has to do its part and tackle the hard issues of security and governance.

“Third, if we do not tackle the basic causes onshore we will never be able to stop piracy offshore. This entails more training and funding of Somali security forces, and it involves economic reconstruction to break the cycle of despair,” he added, referring to the ever more brazen attacks by pirates off the Somali coast that have targeted all kinds of ships, from giant oil tankers to craft carrying emergency UN food for the hundreds of thousands of hungry civilians.

Addressing the conference on Saturday, Mr. Ban Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that a failure to act now risked expanding the violence to Somalia's neighbours and beyond.

“One thing is certain. If we do not change our approach, there will be little chance for peace in Somalia,” he said, citing the urgent need to give humanitarian aid to 3.2 million people, set up a legal framework to bring the pirates to justice, and accelerate reconstruction by involving the Somali business community at home and abroad.

Among those attending was TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, for whom the conference expressed full support in his efforts to implement the accords reached in neighbouring Djibouti with some of the Islamist militants that had been opposing the Government.

The Istanbul Declaration issued at the end of the conference reaffirmed that “the current hardships and insecurity will require a determined, long-term effort from the Somali Government to promote political cooperation and build strong Government institutions,” while appealing to those who threaten to undermine the peace process.

Mr. Ban's Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, called the conference a major success with important concrete proposals. “This has been a major breakthrough for both the international community and for the people of Somalia, with over 50 Member States, including 20 ministers, participating in this initiative to begin building viable economic structures in Somalia that will sustain peace and stability,” he said in a statement today.

In addition to the high level meetings, there were practical round-table discussions between the Somali private sector, members of the international business community and development partners on six priority sectors: telecommunications, transport infrastructure, banking and remittances, livestock, fisheries and alternative energy.

Each round table concluded with recommendations to advance the ground work laid out in the meetings including establishing sector policies and regulatory frameworks and developing sector-specific capacity building.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa/