Illegal arms rife in Somalia, UN says


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Eritrea has secretly supplied “huge quantities of arms” to a Somali insurgent group with alleged ties to al-Qaida in violation of an international arms embargo and despite the deployment of African peacekeepers, U.N. arms experts have concluded.

“Somalia is awash with arms,” the experts said in a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday. Surface-to-air missiles, suicide belts and explosives with timers and detonators are among the arms held by the Islamic insurgents, known as the Shabab, the report said. Eritrea denied providing any assistance to the Shabab.

The Monitoring Group on Somalia was appointed by the Security Council to report on violations of the arms embargo on Somalia established in 1992. The report determined that the Horn of Africa nation has more arms now than at anytime since civil war broke out in 1991.

Since then, various clan and religious groups have struggled for power, dividing Somalia into warring fiefdoms. In December, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to save an internationally backed administration that was under attack from an Islamic group trying to seize power.

Ethiopian and government troops have since come under near daily attacks by the Shabab, and the Islamic leadership continues to operate from Eritrea.

Since December “huge quantities of arms have been provided to the Shabab by and through Eritrea,” the U.N. monitors said.

Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu denied the accusation and that his country provided any assistance to the Shabab.

“It is a total fabrication and the intention of the report is to depict it as if there is a proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” Abdu told the AP from Asmara.

In past reports, the U.N. monitors have said almost a dozen countries were supplying arms or cash to the warring parties in Somalia. The latest report was likely to fuel fears Somalia is shaping up as an Ethiopia-Eritrea war by proxy.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, tiny compared to its neighbor and longtime rival, fought a border war to a stalemate from 1998-2002, and Ethiopia has so far refused to give up territory granted to Eritrea under an internationally mediated agreement.

In a letter attached to the U.N. report, Eritrea’s ambassador to the U.N. claimed his country was the victim of “continuous and deliberate subtle disinformation campaigns,” and accused Ethiopia of “destabilizing military adventurism” in Somalia.

The U.N. allegations revolve around a chartered Boeing 707 cargo plane that made 13 flights from the Eritrean capital of Asmara to Mogadishu, Somalia.

Despite Eritrean denials, the flights were confirmed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the report said.

The monitoring group also determined that the Ethiopian military intervention, which represents a violation of the U.N. arms embargo, only succeeded in scattering the Shabab and that they remain a potent guerrilla force. The Shabab have enough explosives to continue suicide attacks against the government.

Eritrea also has supplied the Shabab with SA-18 surface-to-air-missiles, one of which was used to shoot down a Belarussian cargo plane on March 23, the group determined.

“The SA-18 was reported to be part of a consignment of six SA-18s that had been delivered by Eritrea to (the Shabab),” the report said. “The group has also learned … that additional missiles may be secreted in arms caches.”

The monitoring group also requested information from the United States concerning air strikes carried out on Jan. 7 and 23 and a naval bombardment on June 1. The U.S. government acknowledged in a letter to the group that it had “conducted several strikes in self-defense against al-Qaida terrorist targets.” The U.S. sees Ethiopia as a partner in the war on terror.

Arms prices in Somalia have skyrocketed with the growing Islamic insurgency against the government, the experts found. Warlords were the most important buyers as the country appeared to be descending back into chaos.

“They had lost control of their fiefdoms after the Islamic Courts Union took over central and southern Somalia during 2006,” the report said. “The Monitoring Group has received information that the warlords are currently trying to reconstitute and arm their respective militias.”

The group recommended more support for the internationally backed government in efforts to reach peace deals with the various armed groups, start a disarmament program and eliminate the main arms markets in downtown Mogadishu. It also recommended professional police and border control forces to end the smuggling of weapons.

AP-ES-07-26-07 0751EDT