Somalia: the country most foreigners avoid

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After years of lawlessness and violence, Somalia has become a place most foreigners choose to avoid.

The country descended into turmoil, factional fighting and anarchy following the collapse of President Siad Barre's socialist regime in 1991.

Warlords now run swathes of the territory which has been been beset by famine and without an effective central government for nearly 20 years.

Somalia has developed very slowly since its creation in 1960, after a former British protectorate merged with an Italian colony.

One of the world's poorest countries, it has endured a lengthy humanitarian crisis and up to a third of its population now depends on food aid.

Meanwhile, up to a million people are thought to have died during years of long-running battles between rival clans.

The instability was further exacerbated by the rise of insurgents affiliated with al Qaida.

Islamist militia and a UN-backed transitional government currently compete for control and relations with its neighbours - Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti - are strained.

Meanwhile, a long-standing absence of authority has led to the rise of pirates in the region, posing a threat to international shipping.

The multimillion-pound ransoms demanded are one of the few ways to make money in the impoverished country.

International tensions mounted following the kidnapping of Paul and Rachel Chandler last October as they sailed from the Seychelles towards Tanzania.

The couple, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were captured when armed men boarded their yacht as they slept.

Pirate attacks, which doubled between 2008 and 2009, are becoming increasingly violent.

In April, a Royal Navy warship secured the safe release of 15 people from another vessel hijacked by Somalis armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK47 rifles.

Authorities are now involved in an ongoing crackdown against the pirates.

Earlier this year, some 130 sailors were being held captive in Somalia.