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Arms to Somalia could be abused

LONDON, Jan 21 – The United States is sending shipments of arms to war-ravaged Somalia which could be used to commit "gross and widespread abuses," Amnesty International warned Thursday.

In a report on the unstable Horn of Africa nation, the London-based rights group detailed shipments of weapons from the US to the internationally backed Somali transitional government.

These deliveries — which included mortars, ammunition and cash for buying arms — were to bolster the administration as it tries to defend the small area it still controls from fierce attacks by Islamist rebels, Amnesty said.

But the rights group raised fears the weapons could be used by government forces in "indiscriminate attacks", or could fall into the hands of armed groups opposed to the government who were frequently responsible for abuses.

Fighting in Somalia killed thousands of civilians last year and displaced hundreds of the thousands more, it said.

Amnesty said the transfers took place "despite substantial risks that such types of weapons could be used in indiscriminate attacks by (transitional government) forces."

Arms could further be "diverted to armed groups opposed to the (transitional government), who also commit gross and widespread abuses," the Amnesty statement said.

"Amnesty International has called for arms transfers to the Somali government to be suspended until there are adequate safeguards to prevent weapons from being used to commit war crimes and human rights abuses."

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Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991 and the transitional government controls only a small part of the capital Mogadishu, according to Amnesty.

Forces backing the weak administration are battling an Al-Qaeda-inspired hardline Islamist group called Shebab, which controls large areas of south and central Somalia.

"International concern for the future of the Somali government has not been matched by an equal concern for the human rights of civilians," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty\’s deputy director for Africa.

A UN arms embargo on Somalia has been in place since 1992 but states can apply to the UN Sanctions Committee for exemptions to supply security assistance to the country\’s government.

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