NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Ten nations and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have been supplying weapons to an Islamic militia that controls much of Somalia, violating an international arms embargo, according to a U.N. commission report obtained Wednesday.

But experts and diplomats expressed deep skepticism about an allegation in the report that 720 Somali mercenaries fought alongside Hezbollah in its battle with Israel in July. Doubts also were raised about the U.N. panel’s findings that Iran shipped arms to the Islamic militants in return for access to uranium mines in the hometown of the top Islamic leader.

The Iranian government, in a letter to the U.N., also strenuously denied shipping weapons to Somalia.

The U.N. panel, charged with monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia, said Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uganda had all supported armed groups inside Somalia.

“At the time of the writing of the present report, there were two Iranians in Dhusa Mareb engaged in matters linked to uranium in exchange for arms,” said the report, which has not been released to the public. Iran also supplied an aircraft to fly 40 Somalis wounded in Lebanon back to Somalia, it added.

Hezbollah’s senior political officer in south Lebanon rejected the report as “baseless.”

“It’s an absurd report that does not warrant a comment,” Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine told The Associated Press.

Hezbollah is an exclusively Lebanese Shiite organization that does not recruit foreigners. The group is also fervently Shiite Muslim, which clashes theologically with the Sunni form of Islam practiced in Somalia. There have also been no other reports of any Africans fighting in Lebanon.

The Islamic courts only had about 2,000 trained militiamen when the fighting in Lebanon took place in July, so it seems unlikely they would send their best men out of the country.

when they were needed at home.

Ted Dagne, a Somalia expert at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said he questioned some of the report’s contents.

“It would be hard not to notice a black man fighting in Lebanon,” he said, adding that he also doubted significant Iranian involvement within Somalia. “The Saudis are probably more active than the Iranians.”

A diplomat who has closely followed developments in Somalia also found errors in the report’s details on certain arms shipments. Speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issues, he expressed skepticism about the report’s allegations of Somalia’s ties to Iran and nuclear issues.

But according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of low-grade uranium can be easily mined in Dhusa Mareb, home to Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the Islamic movement.

Aweys’ Council of Islamic Courts has competed directly with an internationally backed government, which so far has failed to assert itself outside of one town. Some of the courts’ leaders include men that the United States and the United Nations have linked to al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group.

Both the government, which is backed by Ethiopia, and the courts, which are backed by Eritrea, have been preparing for an all-out war for control of Somalia, the report concluded. Mediators from East Africa and the Arab League have been working frantically to reach some kind of peace deal, but so far without success.

“The contest is overwhelmingly military in nature, with rampant arms flows to both sides,” the U.N. report said. “The arms flows are a premier part of a deliberate, ongoing and broader military build up taking place on both sides.”

The authors of the report called on the international community to closely monitor Somalia’s coastline and land borders to intercept suspected arms shipments. The U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed the embargo does not authorize any methods to enforce it. The authors of the report also noted that none of their recommendations in the past 15 years have been implemented.

The four-member panel, which includes a Belgian, an American, a Kenyan and a Colombian, based the report on their own investigations, interviews and material supplied by embassies in Nairobi.

The experts expressed concern that in addition to the small arms routinely used in Somalia, the Islamic militants have obtained sophisticated surface-to-air missiles. Islamic officials recently test-fired the missiles outside of Mogadishu, according to witnesses.

The panel also determined that Islamic officials have established a tax and fee collection system that will allow it to be self-financing in the future.

Associated Press writer Sam F. Ghattas in Beirut contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-15-06 1605EST

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