UNITED NATIONS — Somalia's foreign minister urged the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to lift the 20-year-old arms embargo on the country so that its armed forces can fight off al-Qaida linked militants and consolidate peace.
The foreign minister addressed the council amid allegations that Iran and Yemen have supplied weapons to the Somali militant group al-Shabab. Iran rejected those allegations as an "absurd fabrication."
A report by a U.N.-appointed committee monitoring sanctions against Somalia and Eritrea report links Iran and Yemen to the supply of weapons to al-Shabab, according to a U.N. diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, in a letter to the Security Council obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, said the allegations were part of a "malicious campaign." He said the monitoring group put forward "unfounded allegations and strange fabrications" without first informing the Iranian government and said the contents were leaked "for propaganda purposes." He urged the monitoring group to "address this unfair move and remedy the issue."
Urging the Security Council to lift the arms embargo, Somalia's Foreign Minister Fawzia Y. H. Adam, who is also deputy prime minister, told members that the government will institute measures "to ensure that armaments do not fall into the wrong hands."
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun reported to the council earlier Thursday on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's suggestion last week for "a calibrated approach" to the relaxation of the arms embargo.
It would take into account key factors including "the pressing need to support the development of Somali forces while avoiding the proliferation of uncontrolled weapons that could exacerbate the security situation," Zerihoun said.
Somalia is trying to establish its first functional government after two decades of chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Siad Barre and then turned on one another. Al-Shabab rebels have been pushed out of the cities of southern and central Somalia by African Union forces, but they are not yet defeated.
Adam said that "getting rid of the remnants of the al-Shabab is a top priority for us."
This requires strengthening the Somali Defense Forces through training, equipment and restructuring, she said.
"Consolidating peace in the recovered areas in southern Somalia and securing in a timely manner the necessary resources both military and financial is another priority," Adam said. "The lifting of the arms embargo is a prerequisite for attaining this goal."
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has told the U.N. he wants rifles, light machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to fight the militants and ensure peace. The African Union has backed the lifting of the arms embargo.
Zerihoun, the U.N. official, told the council that despite several attacks by al-Shabab "there is now a tangible sense of security and optimism in Mogadishu," the capital. But he said the presence of the militants still hampers freedom of movement for Somalis.
He stressed that development of the security sector must be coupled with stepped up support for judicial reform and respect for human rights.
"The secretary-general is particularly concerned by the ongoing threat to journalists working in Somalia and by the number of reported incidences of sexual violence," Zerihoun said.
Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Last year, 18 Somali journalists were killed, yet no one was arrested. So far this year one reporter has been killed making it 45 journalists killed since 2007.
Zerihoun mentioned the case of a reporter who was sentenced to a year in prison on Feb. 5 after interviewing a woman who said she was raped by security forces. He said the case "underscores the considerable investment needed to develop a national framework that promotes international human rights norms."
Judges in a Mogadishu court decided the woman falsely claimed she was raped and had insulted the government. Rights groups have decried the case as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault.