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Progress demanded for lawless Somalia

LONDON - World leaders pledged new help to tackle terrorism and piracy in Somalia, but said yesterday that the troubled East African nation must quickly form a stable government and threatened penalties against those who hamper its progress.

Nations pledged new funding, more training for soldiers and coast guards, increased cooperation against terrorism, and a drive to root out those involved in piracy, after the shipping industry paid out $135 million in ransoms last year.

“For two decades Somalia has been torn apart by famine, bloodshed, and some of the worst poverty on earth,’’ Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said, as 55 nations and international organizations - including Somalia’s United Nations-backed transitional government, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - attended the talks.

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“If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so,’’ Cameron said.

Cameron warned that Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked militant group Al Shabab could export terrorism to Europe and the United States.

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.

In a communiqué, leaders hailed tentative signs of progress - with pirate attacks in decline and Al Shabab largely driven out of Mogadishu by an African Union peacekeeping mission.

Clinton said the mandate of Somalia’s transitional government must end as planned in August and warned that travel bans and asset freezes could be imposed against anyone who attempts to stall political progress.

Both a new president and new legislators are due to be elected.

“It’s time to buckle down and do the work that will bring stability to Somalia for the first time in many of its people’s lives,’’ Clinton told the conference.

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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.