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As peace expands, Somalia gov’t seeks arms

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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NAIROBI — Should Somalia’s fledgling government be allowed to import weapons to arm its nascent military?
With areas under government control increasing and the threat from Al-Shabab militants decreasing, that’s the question being put to the UN Security Council.

The African Union this week appealed to the council to allow arms and other military equipment into the country to equip Somalia’s military.

It is a request being made as the international community begins to look at how long it will be before Somali troops can provide security on their own, allowing the departure of African Union troops, who have been in Somalia since 2007.

Somalia’s Ambassador to Kenya, Mohamed Ali Nur, said Wednesday that it is time to increase the capabilities of the country’s military, after a year of military and political progress. The extremist rebels were pushed out of Mogadishu in August 2011, and over the last three months a new government has been installed.

“Now we are a government and a sovereign country and we will request through the UN to lift the arms embargo so we can arm our forces,” Nur said.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has asked the UN to adjust its arms embargo so that the government can bring in rifles, light machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades with which to fight the militants.

The embargo, the argument goes, was designed to keep arms away from Al-Shabab, not the government. With some additional help — like the building of new weapons armories — the government believes it can make sure weapons don’t fall into the hands of the insurgents.

The African Union force, known as AMISOM, is primarily made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya.

The force has pushed Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and more recently the southern port city of Kismayo. Many are looking for when the African troops can leave.

“AMISOM troops can’t stay there forever. We want our Somali forces to be trained,” Nur said. “It will be difficult and it will take some time but it has to be started.”

The US is determined to help create a new Somali army subservient to civilian and constitutional control that will “take on increasingly new responsibilities that are much broader than anything AMISOM has been equipped and manned to do,” said the top US diplomat on Africa, Johnnie Carson, earlier this month.

The number of African Union troops killed in Somalia has always been shrouded in mystery. AMISOM does not release death tolls and neither do the countries that contribute troops, citing political sensitivities back in home capitals. Onyonka, though, was upfront with what he said was a major sacrifice by Ugandan forces.

“We should never forget that Uganda lost more than 2,700 troops during this process,” Onyonka said. “This exercise has its cost, which has been heavy.

It’s important that we should not forget that. This is a critical aspect.” — AP


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