By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
Turkey took part in a major conference about Somalia in London on Thursday, with more than 20 international leaders meeting to discuss the East African state’s myriad problems.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim represented Ankara at the high-level meeting which focused on Somalia’s security, humanitarian and financial issues.
The Turkish premier said Ankara’s “solidarity and cooperation” with the Somali government would continue in an even more determined way.
In opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underlined the high death toll from Somalia’s 2011 famine, describing it “a stain on the conscience of humanity”.
“This time, we must save lives before it is too late,” he urged the conference.
Somalia is currently in the grip of an extensive drought, which has also struck several countries in the East African region.
The country also faces a range of security issues, with attacks by the al-Shabaab rebel group regularly claiming the lives of civilians and members of the security forces alike.
Surge against militants
Somalia's government has been battling the al-Qaeda-linked militants since 2004.
More than 20,000 foreign troops are currently stationed in Somalia as part of the AMISOM operation (African Union Mission to Somalia) fighting al-Shabaab.
Amid the violence, a government minister was accidentally gunned down last week in the capital Mogadishu.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told the conference al-Shabaab had been “driven back” across Somalia, adding the group no longer posed an “existential threat” to the country.
However, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called for a surge against al-Shabaab and more support for AMISOM.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said his government was working on lifting an arms embargo to receive more efficient weapons with which to fight the terror group.
“Once we recover the remaining territories and secure supply routes, we will stabilize the country by building local administrations in collaboration with the federal member states,” the Somali leader said.
Turkey’s Yildirim condemned terror attacks in the East African country and said "keeping bright the fire of hope for the future and life in Somalia" was the common responsibility of the international community.
He said Turkey and Somalia’s ties were historic, deeply rooted and based on brotherhood. Yildirim reminded the conference that in 2011, when Somalia was "almost forgotten" by the international community, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Mogadishu and attracted attention to the country’s problems.
Urging a review on the international weapons embargo, Yildirim said "it is a must for Somalia’s government to have a regular army in its struggle against the al-Shabaab terrorist organization".
He said a Mogadishu Anatolian Military Training facility will be fully operational by September.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also attended the meeting where Somalia’s foreign debt was discussed -- it currently has a debt burden of more than $5 billion.
Ankara has been a major supporter of the country. Yildirim said Turkey had contributed to Somalia’s development efforts to the tune of some $600 million since 2011.
He also said the Turkish Red Crescent would continue to ship food aid to Somalia before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on May 26.
Turkey, as term president of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, would also continue its initiatives for providing support for Somalia and Eastern Africa, Yildirim added.
Last month Turkey and Somalia signed deals to boost cultural centers and develop cooperation during a visit by the Somali leader to Ankara.
Turkey, which played a significant role in overcoming the last famine in Somalia, has initiated many projects, such as a 200-bed training and research hospital which opened in 2015.
Turkish Airlines also launched a campaign this year to aid the East African country, transporting humanitarian supplies to Mogadishu.
Prime Minister Yildirim met some of the leaders attending the conference in private briefings.
Yildirim met UN chief Guterres, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Prime Minister Theresa May and U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
He also met Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the Lancaster House venue.