UN lifts arms embargo on Somalia, squeezes Al Shabaab

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The UN Security Council (UNSC) on Friday voted to lift an arms embargo on Somalia government forces, ending 31 years of restrictions that had prevented the country from upgrading its military with freely purchased new weaponry.

In a decision, the council sitting in New York voted 14-1 to lift the embargo on Somalia, but retained restrictions on arms trade or supplies to members of the terrorist group Al Shabaab. France abstained.

The council permitted the federal government to order and purchase weapons from all legal merchants in the world. But it will have to submit a list of the weapons to the UN Sanctions Committee on Somalia for verifications.

This conditional approval was criticised by China which told the Session that Somalia was being forced to respect a regulatory condition flouted by many in the West.

The lifting of the embargo had formed the campaign of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud since he took power in May last year, seeing the embargo as an impediment to upgrading his army as regional forces under the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) prepare to leave.

Abukar Osman ‘Baale’, Somalia’s Permanent Representative to the UN told the Council the embargo removal will allow his government to equip the forces.

“It allows us to confront security threats including those posed by Al Shabaab,” he said in a briefing to the Council, promising that his country will also reform management of weapons to ensure they don’t fall in the wrong hands.

Atmis formally began withdrawal from Somalia in September for a gradual drawdown until end of 2024. But in October, Somalia requested the UN Security Council to delay the departure of the initial 3,000 troops. Those forces remained in Somalia, but no new funding came through for their stay.

On Friday, Mr Osman said a new batch of 3,000 troops will be leaving by December 31, 2023.

The decision by the Council also means that al-Shabaab terror merchants will continue to be barred from accessing weapons on a free market basis, and entities found dealing with the terror group will be sanctioned.

The Panel of Experts on Somalia will continue to have their mandate for the next one year under which they will monitor violations of the sanction’s regime on Al Shabaab.

Somalia has been under sanctions on weapons access since 1992 when the UN Security Council first imposed restrictions to tame violence between warlords. The sanctions regime was updated every year and was now including targeted sanctions on al-Shabaab who were barred from purchasing weapons from vendors.

The Council had initially argued Somalia wasn’t ready to run its security agencies without an arms embargo as there had been weapons initially supplied to the government forces, but which were found in Al Shabaab hands.

By AGGREY MUTAMBO, More by this Author