UN: Al-Shabaab biggest threat to peace in Somalia

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In light of the threat posed by Al-Shabaab, drought and the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the Security Council Committee on sanctions in Eritrea and Somalia announced a possible future visit to the Horn of Africa today, as members expressed diverging views on arms embargoes imposed on those countries.

The region clearly demanded a peacekeeping presence, said Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan), Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea.

Outlining that panel’s efforts over the last four months, he said the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group had found no links between Al-Shabaab and Eritrea.  It had also investigated the origin and destination of a cache of 25,000 firearms in Somalia.

Chief among the Group’s concerns were illegal fishing, Al-Shabaab’s involvement in the charcoal trade and the disappearance of troops following border clashes between Djibouti and Eritrea, he said.  Going forward, Somalia must ensure access to all areas for the delivery of aid, he said, describing Al-Shabaab as the biggest threat to peace.

In the ensuing debate, speakers highlighted a range of concerns, from the humanitarian crisis and armed terrorist groups to reported pirate attacks.  Many agreed that assistance was needed to build on recent gains, including Somalia’s successful elections.

Some speakers emphasized the priority of fighting terrorist groups, especially Al-Shabaab and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), with France’s representative urging the Somali authorities to swiftly develop the security architecture necessary for the police and armed forces to take over from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Several speakers called for modifying existing sanctions.  The Russian Federation’s representative proposed loosening the arms embargo to allow Somalia’s armed forces to receive the materials they needed.

The sanctions regime was not a dogma, he said, emphasizing that it must be revised to reflect changing situations.  Others credited sanctions with having helped to prevent terrorist groups from arming themselves.

The representative of the United States stressed the importance of a Monitoring Group visit to Eritrea, noting that without that Government’s engagement, the Council could otherwise not make informed decisions on sanctions.

Some Council members voiced support for the proposed visit.  Ethiopia’s representative emphasized that any visit must remain free of preconceived assumptions, allowing the Committee to observe first-hand the boundary demarcation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, among other pressing concerns, including Eritrea’s compliance with relevant Security Council resolutions.

The United Kingdom’s delegate said that country’s refusal to cooperate with the Monitoring Group left no other way to verify whether or not it supported Al-Shabaab and other armed groups.

Eritrea’s representative called on the Council to ensure Ethiopia’s immediate, unconditional withdrawal from sovereign Eritrean territory.  It was also time to lift the sanctions, he said, describing the measures as unjustified.

Maintaining them could only be viewed as a desire to spread crises in an already conflict-ridden region, he added.

Pointing out that Eritrea had been cleared of wrongdoing in Somalia, had no links to Al-Shabaab and was committed to Qatar-sponsored mediation efforts to release all Djibouti prisoners of war, he said the Monitoring Group had visited Eritrea twice before and there would be no value in another trip.

Djibouti’s representative said he was deeply saddened that Eritrea had chosen to obstruct the Monitoring Group, denying it all access to the information needed to determine its compliance or otherwise with Council resolutions.

Warning that Eritrea continued to provide support to Al-Shabaab, he urged that country to clarify the situation of 13 Djibouti prisoners of war who remained unaccounted for, and to comply with the 2010 Qatar Mediation Agreement on the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea.

Also speaking today were representatives of Senegal, Egypt, China, Sweden, Ukraine, Japan, Uruguay, Italy and Bolivia.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea, provided an overview of recent developments.  The Committee had received notifications related to the arms embargo on Somalia and was working on the issues of sanctions violations and actions of armed groups.

He said the monitoring group had reported a number of concerns, noting that Al-Shabaab remained the most pressing threat in Somalia.

In addition, the discovery of about 25,000 guns aboard a vessel had led to an ongoing investigation into the origin and destination of those weapons.

Expressing concern about security issues, he went on to urge Somalia to ensure aid delivery.  Other concerns included illegal fishing and the involvement of Al-Shabaab in the charcoal trade.

Turning to Eritrea, he said no links had been found in tracking support for armed groups, including Al-Shabaab.

The monitoring group had raised concerns about troop disappearances after the Djibouti-Eritrea border clashes and had examined Eritrea’s compliance with relevant Council resolutions, he said, noting the issuance of a report on those matters.

Given the current situation, he said the region demanded a peacekeeping presence and that discussions were ongoing for a possible visit of the Committee to the Horn of Africa.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), emphasizing that Al-Shabaab remained “a vicious threat,” said armed groups could not be defeated by military means alone.

The political process would lay a foundation for peace and security.  The sanctions regime had supported the Government’s fight against Al-Shabaab, alongside AMISOM troops.

Turning to Eritrea, he urged its Government to comply with its international obligations, including Council resolutions.

Its refusal to cooperate with the Monitoring Group meant that there was no way to verify whether it was supporting Al-Shabaab and other armed groups.  He encouraged Eritrea to take the opportunity for engagement being offered by the Council.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said the fight against terrorist groups in Somalia, including Al-Shabaab and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), remained a priority.

Somali authorities must swiftly develop a security architecture so that the police and armed forces could take over from AMISOM.

Operations by Somali and international forces must be pursued in full respect for human rights, he said, stressing that drought threatened millions of people and called for a sustained humanitarian response.

Welcoming Eritrea’s apparent lack of support for Al-Shabaab, he said it was important for that country to deepen its cooperation with the Council and invite the Panel of Experts to Asmara.

Welcoming Eritrea’s release of four Djibouti prisoners of war, he urged that light be shed on other cases.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) expressed concern over the growing threat of ISIL in the region, as illustrated by an operation in February on a hotel by a small faction that had declared allegiance to that group.

He noted the Monitoring Group’s concern at the threat posed by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and condemned the diversion of humanitarian assistance.

Regarding the charcoal ban, he said that while Al-Shabaab might no longer be involved in its trade, that group continued to levy taxes on its production and export.

He went on to invite Eritrea to cooperate to a greater extent with the Monitoring Group, creating conditions conducive to the lifting of sanctions.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) raised a number of concerns, including increasing numbers of pirate attacks and the safety of the Somali people in the face of Al-Shabaab violence and the threat of famine.  Successful elections had triggered progress in many sectors.

To build on that, he underlined the importance of strengthening the arms and charcoal embargo, and extending assistance to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

He approved of loosening the embargo to allow national armed forces to receive needed materials, stressing that a sanctions regime was not a dogma, but rather must be periodically revised to reflect changing situations.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said terrorist groups continued to be a major obstacle on the road to peace and rebuilding of State institutions in Somalia.  The embargo’s strict implementation must continue and the Monitoring Group must examine any breaches.

Turning to the sanctions on Eritrea, he commended the Monitoring Group’s findings that the Government had no links to Al-Shabaab.

Periodic review of the sanctions was important to ensure they reflected the situation on the ground.  Moving forward, he urged more cooperation between Eritrea and the Monitoring Group.

Concerning the missing personnel from Djibouti, he called for answers.  Regarding the Monitoring Group, he said Africans must be appropriately represented.

WU HAITAO (China) said neighbouring countries had an interest in maintaining peace in order to promote regional development, urging them to use dialogue to improve developments on the ground.

The monitoring group should play a constructive role in peace and security in Africa, he said, recalling that China had provided assistance to AMISOM and the countries in the Horn of Africa.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), emphasizing that strengthening Somalia’s national security must be a top priority for the new President and Government, said Al-Shabaab remained the most significant security threat.  Sustained engagement by the Council and the Monitoring Group would be needed in tackling it.

Expressing concern about the severe humanitarian situation caused by the drought in Somalia and the region, he said safe and unhindered access was needed to provide relief.

Noting reports of a possible breach of the arms embargo, he urged that the incident be thoroughly investigated and that vigilance be exercised regarding any possible exploitation of natural resources by Al-Shabaab.

Eritrea must cooperate with the Monitoring Group in order to verify its encouraging findings that no Al-Shabaab presence existed in that country, he stressed, expressing support for the proposal of a visit to Asmara by the Monitoring Group Chair.

EDUARD FESKO (Ukraine) said Al-Shabaab stood in the way of a humanitarian response to the drought in Somalia.  He expressed support for cooperation between the Somali National Army and AMISOM, and commended Kenyan forces for their recent successful operations.

Further joint efforts to ensure implementation and enforcement of the arms embargo and charcoal ban would deprive terrorist groups of revenue and weapons.

He asked for detailed information on unregulated and illegal fishing to be included in the next report to the Council.  Regarding Eritrea, he said cooperation by that Government would allow the Monitoring Group to implement its mandate.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) said that with Al-Shabaab a threat in Somalia, sanctions were an effective measure.

Japan looked forward to the Somali National Army taking over responsibility for security, he said, noting that the London conference in May would be an opportunity to build political will.  Japan had extended $30 million in emergency and humanitarian assistance to address the drought.

Vessel hijackings highlighted the need for continued international anti-piracy activities, he said, urging that more support be provided to Somalia to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Turning to Eritrea, he called for progress on the case of combatants missing in action following the border incident with Djibouti.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said it was urgent to bolster Somalia’s security in order to combat Al-Shabaab.  The international community must also boost efforts to provide assistance for security and the provision of services to citizens.

The Monitoring Group should “leave no stone unturned” in its work concerning the illegal arms trade and other areas.  In the face of a severe drought, Somalia must ensure aid delivery to all areas.

The humanitarian crisis must be addressed, as should sexual violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage, he said, urging the Government to investigate and act on those issues.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said although Al-Shabaab’s capacities had been weakened, it remained a potent force capable of launching attacks.  Close attention must be paid to developments.

The Monitoring Group’s work on sanctions was critical, he said, emphasizing Ethiopia’s commitment to cooperate on that matter.  Forging the necessary horizontal coordination with the Monitoring Group and other mechanisms was important.

Somalia had cooperated with the Group and must meet its obligations in accordance to relevant Security Council resolutions, including on investigations involving missing soldiers.

Any visit by the Council should remain free of preconceived assumptions, as it would allow the Committee to observe first-hand the boundary demarcation and other pressing concerns.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) noted that the Monitoring Group had stated that Somalia was cooperating fully in the implementation of the sanctions regime.  Further progress in managing arms and ammunition should be taken into account in considering future sanctions.

On Eritrea, he said Italy expected the Monitoring Group to be fair and impartial, encouraging that country to cooperate with the Council so that it could take decisions on the basis of established facts.

LUIS MAURICIO ARANCIBIA FERNÁNDEZ (Bolivia) said the long-standing sanctions regime targeting Somalia and Eritrea had been amended over time, but with no notable progress.

It was time to consider its effectiveness, bearing in mind that sanctions were not an end in themselves.  Expressing alarm at Al-Shabaab’s presence, he urged Somalia, AMISOM and other partners to protect humanitarian aid workers and ensure the charcoal ban was respected.

MICHELE SISON (United States), regarding Somalia and the Al-Shabaab threat, said robust efforts must continue to avoid backsliding on recent gains.

She expressed support for sanctions as part of a comprehensive United Nations strategy to deter violence and corruption.  On the arms embargo, she urged Somalia and Member States to comply with existing measures and advise promptly when using exemptions.

She inquired about plans by one Member State to build a naval base in the region, adding that the United States would welcome any Monitoring Group reporting on an uptick in piracy and the nexus between unregulated fishing and piracy.

Turning to Eritrea, she emphasized the importance of a Monitoring Group visit, noting that without that Government’s engagement, the Council could not make an informed decision on sanctions.

MOHAMED SIAD DOUALEH (Djibouti), agreeing that Al-Shabaab continued to pose a serious threat to Somalia’s peace and security, expressed support for the call by the Head of AMISOM for a troop surge in order to tackle that group.

Likewise, he echoed the Secretary-General’s call to provide enhanced logistical support for under-equipped African Union forces in Somalia, in particular force enablers and multipliers, including helicopters.

Saying he was “deeply saddened” that Eritrea had chosen to obstruct the Monitoring Group, denying them all access to information needed to determine whether Eritrea was in compliance with the Council’s resolutions, he stressed that the country had formulated a “victimhood narrative” and cynically sought to be rewarded for its continued defiance of Council resolutions.

Warning that Eritrea continued to provide support to Al-Shabaab, he went on to say the country should be urged to clarify the situation of the 13 remaining Djibouti prisoners of war still unaccounted for, and must comply with the provisions of the 2010 Qatar Mediation Agreement on the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea.

The latter continued to harbour, train, equip and provide logistical support to armed groups seeking to overthrow and destabilize the Government of Djibouti, in violation of Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations, he added.

AMANUEL GIORGIO (Eritrea) said the Council’s briefing was taking place exactly 15 years from the date the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission had given its final, binding ruling.

Yet Ethiopia continued to occupy sovereign Eritrean territory, including the town of Badme, in violation of its treaty obligations and international law, dashing hopes for peace and security.  The Council continued to avoid the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict.

It could not continue its 15 years of inaction in the face of destabilizing acts of occupation and aggression in the region.

“This is not only morally and legally unacceptable but is it increasingly evident that the simmering tension is untenable and fraught with perilous escalation,” he said, calling on the Council to ensure Ethiopia’s immediate, unconditional withdrawal from sovereign Eritrean territories.

“Clearly, the time has come, in fact it is long overdue, to lift the sanctions on Eritrea,” he said.  They were unjustified and their continuation could only be viewed as a desire to spread crises in an already conflict-ridden region.  For four years the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group had found no evidence of any Eritrean wrongdoing in Somalia.

On Djibouti, Eritrea was committed to Qatar-sponsored mediation efforts to release all Djibouti prisoners of war, he said, adding that “Eritrea has confirmed that there were no more Djiboutian prisoners in its hands.”

The Monitoring Group had visited Eritrea twice and ascertained the absence of Eritrea’s support for Al-Shabaab.

As such, “Eritrea does not see any real value in a visit by the Monitoring Group to the country,” he said, stressing that its real concern was the public stance of certain countries against the lifting of sanctions even if the Group was to visit Eritrea.