Representatives from 54 countries have gathered in Istanbul to discuss how to build a better future for Somalia and help the Horn of Africa nation end two decades of chaos and conflict.
Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said the conference needed to "guide Somalia to a new direction, a fresh start away from labels such as the world's worst failed state."
He added the conference would be successful "if the international community adopts a common position on the future of Somalia."
One message heard in opening remarks on Thursday was the urgent need for an internationally backed reconstruction effort. A Turkish foreign ministry source said one of the chief aims of the two-day meeting was to push Somalia back up the international political agenda.
The first day of the meeting was devoted to development. Local businessmen, civic society groups, and political representatives from Somalia and elsewhere, were discussing ways to rebuild the country, with the focus on reconstruction, energy and water.
Security must come first
One Somali delegate, businessman Abdirtahaman Abdiqani underlined that security was still the key to redevelopment . "No one can make a business, if the political environment is not good, if there is a lack of security," he warned.
The Istanbul conference comes as Somali government forces, backed by the African Union, continue to fight al-Shebab. These insurgents, who are allies of Al Qaeda, still control large parts of Somalia, but Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali claims government and AU forces are now making significant progress in their efforts to drive them out.
"We have gained control of the capital city Mogadishu and large swathes of land of the previously ungovernable southern and central regions in nine months," he said in Istanbul. "The Shebab element will not survive too long. Their reckless tactics have sapped them of support," he added.
Turkish diplomatic sources say one important item on the conference agenda is the creation of an international fund which would pay for the training and equipping of Somali security forces.
Mandate for transitional government expires in August
On Thursday, the meeting will switch to preparations for the period after the expiry of the mandate of Somalia's transitional government, which falls in August. The plan is to draw up a road map by August 20th for the creation of a new government. Experts say it is proving difficult to secure the backing of all of Somalia's disparate leaders.
However, Prime Minister Ali claims they are now making progress on an agreement on the size of the future parliament and on guaranteeing women's representation. The hope is that more progress will be forthcoming in Istanbul.
Author: Dorian Jones/mc
Editor: Daniel Pelz