The UN Security Council Wednesday evening in New York partially lifted the decades-old arms embargo on Somalia for one year to help the country in its fight against the armed al-Shabab group.
The council said in a statement that it unanimously adopted a UK-drafted resolution that also renewed a 17,600-strong African Union peacekeeping force for a year and reconfigured the UN mission in the Horn of Africa country.
Somalia’s government had asked for the arms embargo to be lifted and the US supported that, but other UN Security Council members were concerned about completely lifting the embargo due to security challenges.
The embargo was imposed on Somalia in 1992 to cut the flow of weapons to feuding warlords, who a year earlier had ousted late Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into civil war.
Somalia held its first elections last year to elect a president and prime minister since 1991.
The 15-member council stated that the resolution would allow sales of weapons as automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but ban surface-to-air missiles, large-calibre guns, howitzers, cannons and mortars as well as anti-tank guided weapons, mines and night vision weapon sights.
It also requires that the Somalia government or the country delivering assistance notify the UN Security Council “at least five days in advance of any deliveries of weapons and military equipment and providing details of such deliveries and assistance and the specific place of delivery in Somalia”.
The Somali government believes lifting the embargo will help it strengthen its poorly equipped military and enhance security measures in the country.
The AU peacekeeping force, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia, is battling al-Shabab fighters on several fronts in Somalia and has forced them to abandon significant territory in southern and central areas.
The group, which affiliated itself with the al-Qaeda in February last year, launched its campaign against the government in early 2007, seeking to impose sharia, or Islamic law, on the entire country.
Human rights group had on Monday called on the UN not to lift the embargo, describing the idea as premature and warning that it could “expose Somali civilians to even greater risk and worsen the humanitarian situation”.