The pledge was made by Henry Bellingham, British undersecretary for Africa, here Saturday evening after holding talks with senior Saudi officials including Nizar Obaid Madani, minister of state for foreign affairs.
Bellingham, whose areas of responsibilities include Britain’s overseas territories, Africa and the United Nations, said the Kingdom has assured participation and support to a major donor conference for Somalia to be hosted by London on Feb 23. Bellingham’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which coincides with the summit of African Union leaders in Addis Ababa, was aimed at holding consultations with the Kingdom and other Gulf states on issues affecting the African continent as a whole.
Bellingham was speaking about his talks with Saudi officials with special reference to the London donor conference. He said the UK had been working with African countries, particularly Somalia and Sudan, to restore peace and security. “We know that young British jihadis are also being trained in Somalia,” admitted the British undersecretary, while referring to the problems posed by the Al-Shabab extremist group in the country. “A large number of vessels were also captured by Somali pirates at sea for ransom … but we know that the figures are declining,” said Bellingham.
He called for Saudi and international support for Somalia, adding the Kingdom is a key regional player and a very important partner for Britain.
“We have invited Saudi Arabia to the London conference on Somalia,” said Bellingham. To this end, it is important to note that Saudi Arabia recently donated $60 million in aid to help the people with food and medicine. This is in addition to 500 million euros pledged by an emergency aid summit that took place in Istanbul late last year.
Referring to the situation in Somalia, Bellingham said extremist group Al-Shabab has been involved in several plots including the bomb attack in Somalia recently that killed 70 people. He said the London Conference on Somalia will articulate the unified determination and commitment of the key international actors on the formation of sovereign and effective governance in Somalia so that all corollary problems can be taken care off.
Asked about the Kingdom’s support to London’s initiative for Somalia and other African countries, Bellingham said: “We are very keen to have the support of Saudi Arabia … this country has a better experience in de-radicalizing extremist elements.”
He lauded the Saudi experience in counseling and rehabilitating terrorists and deviants. He observed cooperation between Somali militants and pirate gangs is growing as Al-Shabab becomes more desperate for funding
He also hoped for support from the African Mission for Somalia. “We believe Somali people have suffered for a long time and it is time we work together to alleviate this suffering that has condemned them to poverty and refugee camps,” he said. Somalia is a member of the Arab League and the international community, which have the responsibility to help and see the country come out from the ruins of war, he added.
Meanwhile, the UK Embassy in Riyadh announced that a delegation of 20 businesses from the UK’s southeast and southwest regions will visit Alkhobar, Jeddah and Riyadh from Feb. 4 to 8 as part of a multi-sector and health care market visit organized by UK Trade & Investment, the UK government’s support organization for companies wishing to internationalize their business.
The companies will be supported by UK Trade & Investment at the British Embassy, which will host a reception in both Riyadh and Alkhobar to allow local businesses to meet the UK companies during their five-day visit. The specific health care group will be visiting Jeddah and Riyadh. The British companies are already making appointments in advance of their arrival and are looking to identify business opportunities and develop long-term partnerships.
The group covers a wide range of products and services including construction industry software, a wide range of education and training services, health care products and diabetes management, glass interior design products, marine and aviation uniforms, military seating, road security barriers, project and program management solutions, key security systems and valves. Many of the companies are new to the Saudi market and are aiming to establish strong business ties for the future.