US envoy to attend conference on Somalia

By Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Tom Maliti
Associated Press / April 18, 2009
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MOMBASA, Kenya - France will offer to train Somali forces and the United States will send its top Africa envoy to an international conference on Somalia next week as the world tries new initiatives to stabilize the country and quash piracy off its coast, officials said yesterday.

The European Union said donors are expected to pledge at least $262 million to bolster Somalia's fledgling security forces as they confront Islamic militancy and escalating piracy.

France will offer to train a 500-strong Somali battalion in neighboring Djibouti, Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said.

The Obama administration is sending its top Africa diplomat, acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Philip Carter, according to State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

An official from the US Agency for International Development also will attend, he said.

Pirate attacks continued off the Horn of Africa even as new plans were announced. Pirates unsuccessfully tried to hijack Danish registered cargo ship M.V. Puma in the Gulf of Aden yesterday morning, according to Per Nykjaer Jensen, chief executive of the Danish company Shipcraft.

A boat with five armed pirates tried to board the ship around 7 a.m. but failed after the ship zigzagged and an emergency flare was fired in the direction of the pirates, Jensen said. A helicopter from the multinational anti-piracy force in the area was able to chase them away.

Nykjaer Jensen said the three Danes and four Filipinos on board are fine.

The ship was almost empty and was on its way back to Europe from Singapore.

The United States pressed Somalia late Thursday to root out the pirates menacing the seas off the Horn of Africa.

"We want to press them to take action against these pirates who are operating from their territory," Wood said, adding that the United States was willing to assist but had not yet decided how best to do that.