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Hague's action warning in Somalia

William Hague has warned more action is needed to tackle the terrorist threat from Somalia as he became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit the strife-torn African nation for 20 years.

Mr Hague said dealing with militant Islamists who have made the country their base "matters a lot" to the security of the United Kingdom.

His arrival in the capital, Mogadishu, marked the start of a major diplomatic push by Britain to help stabilise a country he described as "the world's most failed state". The Government is hosting an international conference in London on Somalia later this month and Mr Hague said counter-terrorism co-operation would be high on the agenda.

Security in the capital has improved since an offensive last year by a 10,000-strong African Union force in the country (Amisom) drove the jihadists of al Shabaab out of the city. Nevertheless suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and grenade attacks remain regular occurrences while al Shabaab - which has links with al Qaida - still controls much of southern Somalia.

At the same time pirates continue to prey on international shipping passing through Somali waters, while the region still has more than a million refugees forced to flee their homes by famine.

The dangers were underlined by the tight security arrangements surrounding Mr Hague's short, 10-minute journey from Amison's base at the airport to the residence of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The Foreign Secretary and his entourage were required to don body armour and helmets and travelled in a small convoy of armoured vehicles manned by Amisom soldiers.

With the director general of MI5 Jonathan Evans having warned in 2010 of the threat posed to the UK by terrorists trained in al Shabaab's camps, Mr Hague said there must be no let up now in the pressure. "One of the objectives of our conference in London is to strengthen counter-terrorism co-operation, to make it easier for countries in this region to disrupt terrorist networks, to disrupt their financing and the movements of potential terrorists," he said.

His warning of the dangers to the UK were echoed by the Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamoud Ahmed Nur, who said that with 350,000 Somalis living in the UK, the Government could not afford to ignore the problem. He said disaffected young British Somalis were already travelling to Somalia to seek terrorist training before returning to Britain with "revenge in their hearts".

Despite the continuing problems, ministers in London believe the success of the Amisom offensive has opened up a window of opportunity. At the same time, Mr Hague said the approaching end of the transitional government arrangement in August also pointed to the need for progress.

Following his meeting with the president, Mr Hague announced the appointment of Matt Baugh as the first British ambassador to Somalia since 1991 when the country collapsed into chaos and civil war. He also confirmed the Government's intention to build a new British embassy in Somalia once security conditions allow - although for now Mr Baugh will operate out of the British High Commission in neighbouring Kenya.

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