The European Union has pledged 650 million euros ($868 million) in aid to Somalia. The move backs a three-year reconstruction plan help the country recover from its more than two decades of civil war.
International donors met in Brussels Monday to approve Somalia's "New Deal." European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the latest pledge showed that the EU "remained engaged" with Somalia after having already provided 1.2 billion euros in aid.
"Today I am proud to pledge an additional 650 million euros to support this new phase in the life of Somalia," he said.
Barroso said Somalia was regaining "its status as a fully fledged member of the international community," but added that there was still need for improvement, including addressing security and human rights concerns.
Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had appealed for "real and tangible" help, and welcomed Monday's aid announcement.
"Somalia has been given a great opportunity to move forward," he said.
The aid package includes a 170 million euro commitment from Sweden, 90 million euros from Germany and 50 million pounds (60 million euros) from Britain.
"This funding will contribute to all peace- and state-building goals," said EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who added that funding for the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) would also continue.
At the opening of the meeting, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton (pictured above with Mohamud) said that Somalia's president faced "one of the most difficult challenges in the world."
Mohamud, who has been in office for about a year, said in his speech to the conference that there were four priorities for Somalia: security, legal reform, public finances and economic recovery.
"The New Deal must deliver on the ground soon," he said, adding that after years of hardship, "expectations from our people are understandably high. We must not let them down."
Mohamud said that he hoped the agreement would enable Somalia to hold elections in 2016.
Decades of war, famine
"Where there was despair after 20 years of war, of famine, of destitution, now there is hope – hope that a better future is achievable," said EU President Herman Van Rompuy. "Re-establishing the rule of law, providing justice and a sense of security to the people: those are the foundations to reconcile the nation, to gain its trust."
Somalia has been enveloped in a bloody civil war since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. The al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group al-Shabab controls large swaths of southern and central Somalia, although it has suffered setbacks since 2011.
Earlier this month, at least 15 people were killed in bombings at a hotel in restaurant in the capital Mogadishu. Last month, Doctors Without Borders ceased all operations in the country due to growing security concerns after 22 years of working in Somalia.
The EU has spent more than 500 million euros on development aid for Somalia over the past five years, and a further 700 million euros on security. Most of the funding went to AMISOM, as well as military training and combating piracy off the Horn of Africa.
dr/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)