Almost 200 representatives from around the world will attend a conference this week in Belgium to raise money to help stabilize Somalia amid continued efforts by pirates to hijack vessels off the country’s coast.

Nations in Europe, Africa, the Mideast and Asia will attend the conference.

Held by the United Nations and European Union, the international donor conference Thursday aims to raise money to crack down on pirates’ land bases and stabilize Somalia’s precarious government, EU officials say. Experts will meet Wednesday for private testimony on problems and solutions, but Thursday is the main event.

The aim is to boost aid for Somalia and the African Union’s peacekeeping forces, officials say.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton outlined a four-point plan to expand America’s counterpiracy activities, starting with participation in Thursday’s conference.

"The solution to Somali piracy includes improved Somali capacity to police their own territory," Clinton said, according to remarks posted on the State Department’s Web site. "Our envoy will work with other partners to help the Somalis assist us in cracking down on pirate bases and in decreasing incentives for young Somali men to engage in piracy."

Governmental instability and poverty in the volatile east African nation have given rise to piracy attacks on merchant vessels. The U.S. Navy, which has led efforts to safeguard waterways, says 24 ship hijackings and 53 unsuccessful attempts have occurred so far this year — well ahead of 2008’s pace, when a record 40 hijackings were reported.

As of Tuesday, pirates still held 17 ships and more than 270 crewmembers captive for ransom, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet.

On Saturday, the British military support ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary Wave Knight thwarted two pirate attacks on merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden, according to a U.S. Navy news release.

"In the last 72 hours alone, coordinated efforts of six different nations resulted in the release of 49 innocent merchant mariners who had been held hostage by armed pirates, as well as the interception of 46 suspected pirates," Royal Navy Commodore Tim Lowe, deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said in a statement.

Thursday’s conference in Brussels will be attended by Somalia’s new president, Sheikh Sharif.

The U.S. four-point plan also seeks meetings with the International Contact Group on Piracy, which includes 24 countries and five organizations, to develop a more multinational response. "The response that came to our original request through the Contact Group for nations to contribute naval vessels has turned out to be very successful," Clinton said. "But now we need better coordination."

A State Department diplomatic team also will meet with the Somali government and regional leaders in Puntland, the semiautonomous region of Somalia and self-proclaimed Somali state that includes the point of the Horn of Africa and base for much of the pirate activity.

Lastly, Clinton said, the department will work with shippers and the insurance industry to "address gaps in their self-defense measures," she said.

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