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Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

3U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 5, 2009.

Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

NAIROBI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Somalia’s president on Thursday, showing U.S. support for a fragile government which is battling against militants including al Shabaab insurgents.

Australian police said this week they had uncovered a plot to attack an army base in Sydney by men with alleged links to al Shabaab which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Clinton said she would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed how the world could help stabilise the Horn of Africa country, which Western security agencies say is a haven for militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond.

“We know we’re facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat,” said Clinton, ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of a U.S.-African trade conference.

“It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we’re going to work even more closely together,” she added.

The United States has offered military aid to Somalia’s government, including more than 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition in recent months, as it battles al Shabaab.

At the meeting, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Clinton is expected to promise more financial aid, including additional shipments of weapons, although these had been scheduled a while ago, a senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said.

Washington has also offered training for security forces and logistical help.

NO U.S. TROOPS

The Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. forces to help fight against Islamist militants. The last U.S. involvement in Somalia — during Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton’s presidency — ended in shambles.

In a battle that inspired the film “Black Hawk Down”, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993, marking the beginning of the eventual withdrawal of a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force from Somalia.

There is still debate within the Obama administration over how to handle the crisis and whether putting full U.S. support behind Ahmed is wise.

Ahmed was elected in January under a U.N.-brokered process that was Somalia’s 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.

Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank, said while Ahmed’s government was seen as imperfect, he was also viewed by many as the only option available.

“I am not sure what she is going to get out of this meeting,” said Cooke of Clinton’s meeting, which is also expected to tackle a rise in piracy off Somalia’s coast.

The Horn of Africa’s coastal waters — vital shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe — have become a focus of pirates who have made off with countless millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels, including U.S.-flagged ships.

Pirates are expected to step up attacks on ships off Somalia’s coast in the coming months as the end of the monsoon season brings better weather.

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Hulkenberg replaces Sutil at Force India

Nico Hulkenberg is determined to make the most of his second chance in Formula One after being given one of Force India’s two race seats for 2012.

The 25-year-old will replace fellow German driver Adrian Sutil, who departs after six years at the UK-based team.

Hulkenberg was Force India’s reserve driver this year behind Sutil and Scottish rookie Paul di Resta, who will retain his seat after finishing 13th overall with 27 points in his debut season.

“It wasn’t easy to watch from the sidelines this season, but I did my best to help the team and show what I was capable of,” said Hulkenberg, who was released by Williams in 2010 despite earning his maiden pole position in his rookie season.
I’m extremely motivated for 2012 and would like to thank everyone for believing in me and giving me this chance. I’m keen to get down to work over the winter to develop our new car and help the team build on this year’s achievements. The first test in Jerez can’t come soon enough.”

The 28-year-old Sutil’s future is uncertain despite finishing ninth overall with 42 points. The only teams with seats available are Williams and HRT.

“Our new line-up means we say ‘goodbye’ to Adrian Sutil, who has been with the team since we entered the sport,” said Force India boss Vijay Mallya.

“He has been an integral part of our success over the past four seasons and we wish him well for the future.”

Di Resta hopes to build on his promising first season.

“I’m really excited about 2012 and there is a real sense of belief that we can continue to push the top teams and take another step forward,” the 25-year-old said.

“I’d also like to thank the team for all their hard work this year and for all the support they’ve given me. I’ll take some time out over the next few weeks to recharge my batteries and hopefully come back even stronger in 2012.”

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Myanmar fighting poses border challenge for China

China Myanmar

Myanmar fighting poses border challenge for China

BEIJING – China has told Myanmar to put an end to fighting with an ethnic militia that has sent 10,000 people fleeing across their border, a strong response underscoring the Communist country‘s concerns about potential instability.

People were continuing to cross from Myanmar‘s mostly ethnic Chinese Kokang region into China’s Yunnan province late Friday, according to witnesses reached by phone. Sounds of artillery and gunfire across the border in Myanmar rang out throughout the day, they said.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the area remained tense with “some small clashes” between the Kokang ethnic army and government forces.

Chinese authorities were housing the new arrivals at seven locations and providing medical services, according to a Yunnan government statement.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China hopes Myanmar can “properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar border area.”

Myanmar must also ensure the safety and legal rights of Chinese citizens in that country, Jiang added in a statement posted on the ministry’s Web site.

China maintains close ties with Myanmar’s ruling military junta. Beijing has consistently offered Myanmar diplomatic support based on its avowed policy of nonintervention, while China’s border trade and oil and gas deals have thrown an economic lifeline to the ruling generals.

Pak K. Lee, an expert on Myanmar and China at Kent University in Britain, said Beijing was not changing its noninterventionist stance, but was concerned about the fighting’s effect on stability in Yunnan ahead of the highly sensitive Oct. 1 celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“Absent the factor of the 60th anniversary, China might adopt a low-profile approach to the event. But now, it has to call on Myanmar to take prompt action to tackle the problem before it becomes unmanageable,” Lee said.

Details of the fighting in Myanmar were murky, although reports say militants who have long fought for autonomy for Myanmar’s Kokang minority attacked police near the town of Laogai on Thursday, killing several officers.

Xinhua cited sources saying that armed clashes started Thursday with three battles in the Kokang region. The fighting has forced normally brisk border trade to come to a standstill, it said.

Myanmar’s state-controlled media made no mention of the violence Saturday, continuing a news blackout. The junta, which generally does not comment on ethnic tensions, has not publicly addressed the violence.

Myanmar’s central government has rarely exerted authority over Kokang — a region in the northern Shan state — and essentially ceded control to a local militia after signing a cease-fire with them two decades ago. The region is one of several areas along Myanmar’s borders where minority militias are seeking autonomy from the central government.

But tensions have been rising in recent months as the junta tries to consolidate its control of the country and ensure stability ahead of national elections next year — the first since the opposition National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in 1990, a result the military ignored.

The latest confrontation apparently began earlier this month after militia leaders refused to allow their guerrillas to be incorporated into a border guard force under Myanmar army command.

Soldiers raided the home of militia leader Peng Jiashen on Aug. 8, and Peng‘s forces began mobilizing. Peng’s troops were forced out of Laogai on Tuesday by government soldiers and a breakaway Kokang faction seeking to overthrow Peng.

With an estimated population of 150,000, Kokang lies 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) southwest of Beijing and is surrounded by lush mountains in a region notorious for the production and use of heroin and methamphetamines, cross-border smuggling, gambling and prostitution.

The region’s links to China date back to the collapse of the Ming dynasty 350 years ago, when loyalists fled across the mountains into present-day Myanmar to escape Manchu invaders.

In recent years, the area has attracted a flood of businessmen from China who have opened hotels, restaurants and shops selling motorcycles, electronics and other imports that are either pricey or unavailable in other parts of Myanmar.

Many investors fled back across the border this month, according to Chinese reports.

As the refugees poured in Friday, Chinese authorities housed them in unfinished buildings, some still with no windows, said a local factory manager in the border town of Nansan who would only give his surname, Li.

A worker with an international medical charity, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the local government, said local authorities were caring for about 4,000 refugees. Several thousand more were staying in hotels or with friends and family on the Chinese side, he said.

China itself has taken a hard line against minority activists in Xinjiang and Tibet, crushing anti-government protests with overwhelming force.

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