Somalia: UN arms embargo impedes efforts to rebuild army, counter Al Shabab

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Somalia has expressed that the United Nations Security Council’s army embargo extension impedes the nation’s efforts to rebuild its national army and security forces to counter terror threats.

The government in Somalia urged the UN on Friday to “seriously consider” the Africa Union Peace and Security Communique in July that called for the urgent lifting of the embargo.

The Security Council  resolution was approved by a vote of 11-0 on Thursday, with Russia, China, Gabon and Ghana abstaining in support of the call by Mogadishu, backed by the African Union, to lift the arms embargo.

The British-drafted resolution does modify the arms embargo to reflect the government’s progress in improving its management of weapons and ammunition, but keeps in place the codified arms embargo, a ban on the sale or transfer of key components of improvised explosive devices that Al Shabab has used, a ban on the import and export of Somali charcoal that was a key money-earner, and travel bans and asset freezes on individuals threatening peace and associated with Al Shabab, including by financing or facilitating its activities.

‘Double standards’

The Somali permanent representative to the UN, Abukar Dahir Osman, described the extension as “unjust and unfair double standards … preventing the government of Somalia to legally obtain military lethal equipment to rebuild its national army.”

He warned that the arms embargo, which is the longest UN sanctions regime, is hindering efforts to rebuild the country’s security forces to counter Al Shabab.

The army used “a major portion” of its armaments during engagements with Al Shabab in the last four months, Osman said, and as a result of the arms embargo renewal, “our hands are tied in the fight against the ruthless enemy at this most critical time.”

Osman said victims of Somalia’s terrorist groups are asking why lifting the arms embargo is a threat to international peace and security while other countries are being armed to defend their territory and people.

Somalia has been battling the Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group, Al Shabab, which has increased attacks since new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced a total war against the group, including efforts to shut down its financial network.

Growing insecurity

Abdi Isack, an independent analyst based in Mogadishu, told Türkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency that if the embargo is not lifted, the government may not be able to liberate the country from terrorists because both sides have similar weapons.

“The government should continue the military reform and make a clear roadmap and address the international concerns in order for the government to ensure that the embargo be lifted and get the military equipment needed to defeat the terrorists,” he said.

Somalia has been plagued by insecurity for years, with Al Shabab being one of the main threats. The UN has warned of growing instability in the country, with reports earlier this year detailing attacks by Al Shabab and pro-Daesh groups.

The Security Council imposed the arms embargo on Somalia in 1992 to cut the flow of weapons to feuding clan-based warlords who toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre the previous year, plunging the country into civil war.

Somalia established a functioning transitional government in 2012 and has been working to rebuild stability in the face of terrorist attacks and one of the worst droughts the country has experienced that has brought thousands to the brink of famine.

There were at least 651 killed and 867 injured in terror attacks in Somalia in 2018. That was followed by 591 killed and 868 injured in 2019, according to the UN in Somalia.

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