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BRUSSELS, Belgium — This week’s international conference on the security situation in Somalia represents the best chance in a generation to revive that troubled and impoverished land, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy to Somalia said Wednesday.

"Without assistance, they won’t be able to do anything," Salim Mohammed Salim Al-Khussaibi said during a brief interview. "They need everything. They need all they can get."

While other U.N.-sponsored meetings on Somalia are scheduled in the months ahead — including a donors’ conference this fall for reconstruction and development — the gathering this week is all about security.

Though piracy remains a popular topic of conversation, the focus here is on enhancing safety on land.

Tariq Chaudhry, a U.N. political affairs officer based in Nairobi, Kenya, said the Somali transitional government has had three immediate priorities: security, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the restoration of government institutions. Some progress has been on aid and institutions, but security in the cities and countryside have lagged behind.

"The real solution (to piracy) is on land," Chaudhry said.

And there’s the rub, he noted. Outsiders may be fixated on pirates, but ashore the Somali government "needs to prove its credibility to its own people."

Currently, there are about 2,700 police officers, Chaudhry said. The goal is to increase that number to at least 10,000. The formation of a paramilitary force of approximately 6,000 is needed as well, he said.

Improving security across the country would give everyday Somalis more of reason to support the transitional government, Chaudhry explained.

He believes public support for the fledgling government can grow well beyond the capital city of Mogadishu.

But he acknowledges that some hardcore elements — maybe 5 percent of the population — would probably never back the government, the first substantive government in Somalia in 18 years.

"Somalia has a long history of near-total impunity for serious abuses by all warring factions since the collapse of its last functional government in 1991," a Human Rights Watch statement released Wednesday said.

In 2007 and 2008, the release states, the country has been embroiled in a brutal conflict between government security forces and its Ethiopian ally against a broad array of insurgent groups.

"Every side to that conflict regularly committed serious violations of the laws of war and other abuses, and the absence of accountability fueled a downward spiral of bloodshed and abuse," the release said.

"That violence, in turn, spawned a humanitarian crisis — 1.2 million Somalis were displaced from their homes as of March 2009, and 3.25 million need humanitarian assistance," the release states.

Wednesday’s session, which was closed to the public, allowed participants to hear and discuss some of the technical aspects of the initiative, according to attendees.

Monetary pledges and other forms of support, be it trainers or equipment, were among the primary issues being discussed.

The results of these discussions will help shape Thursday’s agenda, which includes appearances by Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The U.S. delegation is being headed by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phillip Carter.

Al-Khussaibi, a citizen of Oman, wondered aloud why the United States and Europe, but particularly the former, didn’t get more heavily involved sooner. There was interest, he said, but there also were a lot of doubts.

Somalia "needs everything, even (potable) water," Al-Khussaibi reiterated. "It’s not an easy thing to rebuild Somalia. You don’t know where to start."

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