By Yara Bayoumy (Editing by Sami Aboudi and Jane Baird)
(Reuters) – The Somali government expects to get its first shipment of light weapons within two months after the United Nations¬†partially lifted an arms embargo to strengthen security forces fighting al Qaeda-linked militants, Somalia’s president said.
Aware of international wariness about sending arms to a volatile country already awash in weapons, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said he knew the world was closely watching how his government would manage a fresh inflow of arms.
“We are not worried about getting supplies, we’re concerned about the management of these supplies,” he said, adding he expected the first shipment to arrive within the next two months.
He described as “really useful” the U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this month to allow sales of weapons such as automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
While the United States had supported the move, other Security Council members were wary about completely lifting the ban on a country where al Shabaab militants are still able to launch major attacks.
Somalia’s poorly equipped military – more a collection of rival militias than a cohesive fighting force loyal to a single leader – has had the support of African Union peacekeepers as it has battled al Shabaab fighters on several fronts.
The Security Council imposed the embargo on Somalia in 1992 to cut the flow of weapons to feuding warlords, who a year earlier had ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into civil war. Last year Somalia held its first vote since 1991 to elect a president and a prime minister.
This month’s resolution left in place a ban on surface-to-air missiles, large-caliber guns, howitzers, cannons and mortars as well as anti-tank guided weapons, mines and night-vision weapon sights.
Mohamud said Somalia was approaching different states for the weapons, mainly small arms and ammunition. “We’re looking for equipment that is fit for … the internal security of the country. But in the future Somalia is a very big country with a long coastal line and open air, so we may need bigger arms.”
Mohamud also said he needed about $450 million to fund small development projects across Somalia’s 72 districts to help move the country from aid dependence to economic recovery.
The president is no stranger to the threat of violence that still grips Somalia. Just two days into his job last September, he survived a suicide bomb attack at a Mogadishu hotel.
As part of Mohamud’s efforts to bring back stability, he also granted amnesty to hundreds of Somali pirates and promised to help them seek new careers. But the amnesty does not included those convicted by courts or wanted by Interpol.
The number of successful pirate attacks has fallen sharply since 2011, when Somali pirates amassed about $160 million, after international navies stepped up patrols to protect marine traffic and struck at pirate bases on the Somali coast.
Mohamud said the amnesty, which applied to about 1,000 individuals, had also helped win the release of six hostages held by the pirates for three years. Somali pirates still hold four large commercial vessels, a number of fishing¬†dhows and about 130 hostages.