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Extension of UN Arms Embargo on Somalia Will Limit Fight Against Al Shabab

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Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution extending a more than decade-long arms embargo on Somalia by one year, and it imposed a new ban on ingredients for explosive devices the group is increasingly using.

Russia, China and Equatorial Guinea were against the British-drafted resolution.

The resolution condemned al-Shabab attacks and expressed “grave concern” at the “serious threat” the al-Qaida linked group continues to pose to Somalia and the region, “particularly through their increased use of improvised explosive devices.”

It also condemned the flow of weapons and ammunition to and through Somalia in violation of the arms embargo.

The resolution expressed “serious concern” at reports of increased exploitation of Somalia, by al-Shabab and transnational organized crime networks. It said they are using Somalia as a transit and trans-shipment point for “the trade in sub-standard, illicit and dual-use goods,” which generates revenue for al-Shabab.

The council’s extension of sanctions on Somalia until November 15, 2020 came three days after the release of a report by its panel of experts who monitor sanctions. The panel of experts said recent investigations had shown that al-Shabaab was manufacturing explosives locally, unlike in the past, where they relied on expertise and materials from outside Somalia.

They said al-Shabab remains “a potent threat” to regional peace and security, is now manufacturing home-made explosives, expanding its revenue sources and infiltrating government institutions.

The UN Security Council’s extension of the arms embargo on Somalia restricts the government’s ability to acquire weapons to fight al Shabab militants, and other armed groups.

Somalia is reforming its military to better fight al Shabab, but the sanctions are hurting the military’s ability to defeat al Shabab. The UN needs to lift the sanctions to enable Somalia equip it military to defend the country from al Shabab.

The reform is part of government’s agenda to rebuild the army to a force capable of taking over the security of the country when the 22,000-strong African Union troops leave

Somalia’s UN ambassador Abukar Osman described the arms embargo as ‘outdated’ and ‘flawed’. He said the resolution failed to consider the government’s effort to build a unified and sufficiently equipped national army.

According to the new resolution, all countries must prevent the direct or indirect sale or supply of precursors to Somalia if there is evidence or “a significant risk they may be used in the manufacture in Somalia of improvised explosive devices.”

It also orders countries to give the Somali sanctions committee 15 days advance notice of any sale, supply or transfer of precursors.

In  1992, the UN Security Council imposed an open ended arms embargo on Somalia, and in 2007, the embargo was partially lifted to allow arms supplies to Somali forces. But so much changed since then. The UN must reconsider, according to Somalia’s UN envoy, ‘the positive new reality on the ground.’

The Somali army is beginning to take shape after years of neglect. The UN and Somalia’s international partners must focus on helping the government rebuild its military and work toward lifting the arms embargo fully.

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