* Government needs to win trust of Somalis
* Recent U.N. report of "doubtful validity"
By Abdiaziz Hassan
MOGADISHU, March 31 (Reuters) - Somalia’s prime minister has said military force alone will never defeat Islamist extremists engaged in a three-year-old insurgency in the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke also said a government inquiry had found allegations in a U.N. report of corruption and the sale of arms to rebels by Somali government troops to be baseless, and said the report was of "doubtful validity."
"We have to understand that military capability alone will not defeat the rebels. There are also some ideological issues which must be addressed", Sharmarke told Reuters late on Tuesday.
Somalia has lacked an effective government for nearly two decades, and Western and neighbouring countries say it is a breeding ground for militants intent on launching attacks on east Africa and beyond. It is also a base for pirates seizing foreign ships for ransom.
Somali experts say the western-backed Transitional Federal Government is preparing for a long-awaited offensive aimed at driving al Shabaab Islamist fighters out of the capital, Mogadishu.
But Sharmarke said Somalia’s future stability could not be ensured by a single military operation and that public trust in the government had to be improved.
"Religious scholars have to define a direction for their people and as a government we are restoring the trust of the public in the system," he said.
LACK OF TRUST
The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab fighters have left President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s administration in control of little more than a few blocks in the mortar-pocked streets of the capital.
The group wants to impose a harsher version of Sharia, Islamic law, on Somalia’s 9 million people, of whom more than a third depend on emergency aid.
Speaking from his office in Mogadishu, Sharmarke said he expected to win public confidence by bringing new faces into the cabinet.
He said he hoped this month’s power-sharing deal with the moderate Ahlu Sunna militia would bring the government broader grassroots support and improve the security forces’ morale.
The prime minister denounced a report by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia, saying it had played down the importance of the conflict that has killed 21,000 Somalis since early 2007 and uprooted 1.5 million from their homes.
The report said two U.N. aid agencies had dealings with a prominent businessman linked to Islamic extremists, accused officials of selling diplomatic visas for up to $15,000 and alleged government troops were supplying rebels with arms, Sharmarke said.
An initial government inquiry found some of the accusations to be "baseless" and there will be no further investigation into the rest of the report’s findings, he said.
"The validity of this report is doubtful," Sharmarke told Reuters. (Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Tim Pearce)