Africans press UN to lift Somalia arms embargo

By Manoah Esipisu
SIRTE, Libya, July 4 (Reuters) - African Union (AU) ministers pressed the United Nations on Monday to lift an arms embargo on Somalia to allow neighbouring countries to deploy peacekeepers to protect an interim government there.

Ministers from the 53-member AU echoed calls made last month by east African ministers, but added that urgent action was required to secure the new Somali government and set the country on the path of lasting peace and democracy.

"The decision is that the ministers want the arms embargo removed immediately. The Somali government itself feels let down by Africa, which it says asked it to relocate from Kenya and go to a lawless country without any basic help to set up security apparatus," an African Union official said.

Somalia, which has been without a government since the 1991 fall of dictator Siad Barre, remains a patchwork of fiefdoms ruled by rival warlords.

The government has settled in the town of Johwar pending the tackling of security concerns in the capital Mogadishu.

"Peacekeepers cannot deploy unless the embargo is lifted because they cannot be allowed to move in heavy military gear," said the AU official, who helped draft the resolution.

The draft resolution circulated among ministers urged the United Nations to "lift the arms embargo immediately".

"The timing of issuing the resolution is right. The U.N. secretary general is here, and the feeling is that he will see that Africans want the U.N. to help them complete the process of returning Somalia to peace," the AU official said.

Somalia's new government returned home last month after a nine-month delay caused by a dispute within the cabinet over where the administration should be based -- a key security issue for a region long destabilised by Somalia's insecurity.

Kenya's foreign minister, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, told Reuters the entire Somalia government had now relocated.

Without foreign peacekeepers, the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf fears militia rule in Somalia will prevent ministers and their teams from carrying out their work in safety, free from violence, corruption and extortion.

The regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a conflict resolution body, says African Union troops from Sudan and Uganda were ready to deploy but had been stopped by lack of funds and the U.N. arms embargo.

IGAD has pledged to deal decisively with "spoilers" keen to derail a return to a proper government in Somalia and threatened to refer them to the International Criminal Court.

On Monday Somali Foreign Minister Abdullahi Sheekh Ismail told Reuters: "The AU's call is in solidarity with us. We have sometimes felt let down by Africa, but this is a step forward."


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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