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UK says it, U.S. agree to fund Yemen police unit

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* U.S., UK cooperate to fight terrorism in Yemen, Somalia

* U.S., UK back bigger peacekeeping force in Somalia

By Adrian Croft

LONDON, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The United States and Britain have agreed to fund a counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen as part of stepped-up efforts to fight terrorism in Yemen and Somalia after an attack on a U.S.-bound plane, Britain said on Sunday.

Civil war and lawlessness have turned Yemen, the Arab world's poorest state, into a base for al Qaeda, U.S. officials say, while the al Qaeda-inspired militant group al Shabaab has taken control of large areas of south and central Somalia.

The United States and Britain agreed to intensify joint work to tackle the "emerging terrorist threat" from both countries, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said.

"Amongst the initiatives the prime minister has agreed with President (Barack) Obama is U.S.-UK funding for a special counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen," it said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Brown could not say how much funding had been agreed.

Britain and the United States will also cooperate in supporting the Yemeni coast guard, Brown's office said.

International attention has focused on Yemen after the failed Christmas Day airline bomb attack.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian who told U.S. investigators he was trained by al Qaeda in Yemen, is accused of trying to blow up a U.S. passenger jet as it approached Detroit.

SUPPORT FOR MORE SOMALIA PEACEKEEPERS

Brown and Obama agreed that a larger peacekeeping force was required in Somalia and they will support this at the United Nations Security Council, Brown's office said.

The Somali government and African Union (AU) have pleaded with the United Nations to send a robust peacekeeping force that could take over from the 5,200 AU troops from Uganda and Burundi who have said they are incapable of stabilising Somalia.

Obama said on Friday he had made it a priority to strengthen the U.S. partnership with the Yemeni government, "training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al Qaeda terrorists."

Brown has ordered a review of British airport security and has invited key international partners to a London meeting on Jan. 28 to discuss how to combat radicalisation in Yemen.

Yemen's Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi has said there could be up to 300 al Qaeda militants in his country, some of whom may be planning attacks on Western targets. Qirbi appealed for more help from other countries to combat terrorism.

Brown wants European Union foreign ministers to discuss Yemen and Somalia at their next meeting in late January and he will also discuss the situation in the two countries with other EU leaders at the next European summit, his office said.

He intends to push for stronger action on Yemen from the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that combats money laundering and financing of terrorism, it said.

Brown has also called a special meeting of a British cabinet committee on national security to discuss Britain's response to the attempted Detroit attack, the statement said.

British aid to Yemen, previously 20 million pounds ($31.80 million) a year, is set to rise to 50 million pounds a year from 2010, according to the British Foreign Office web site.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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