Yemeni Weapons Fuel Somali Instability
Yemen the main source of illegal arms to Somalia: UN
Jane Novak for the Yemen Times
SANA’A, Dec. 27— A UN investigation found Yemen is the primary source of arms and ammunition to Somalia which has been under an arms embargo since 1992. The panel of independent experts monitoring the embargo also reported arms smuggling from Yemen intersects with acts of piracy and human trafficking. The findings were presented in a December 10 report to the UN Security Council.
The report notes commercial weapons imports from Yemen supply Somali retail markets as well as opposition and criminal groups. The Yemeni government’s inability to stem the large scale arms trafficking is “a key obstacle to the restoration of peace and security to Somalia,” the panel found. The UN Security Council extended the monitoring group’s mandate for another year.
Yemen plans to refute the charges. SABA news agency dubbed the report “misleading” and noted that “smuggling weapons is sometimes associated with the arriving of displaced Somalis.” A Foreign Ministry statement said that one million Somali refugees in Yemen create an economic burden that “sometimes leads to social, security and health repercussions.” Nearly 50,000 Somali refugees made the maritime crossing to Yemen in 2008, authorities reported.
In prior years, about 30,000 Somalis migrated annually.
The UN report ties together weapons smuggling, human trafficking and piracy, noting some small boats used in acts of piracy also “move refugees and economic migrants from Somalia to Yemen, bringing arms and ammunition on the return journey,” Piracy in the waters between Yemen and Somalia spiked dramatically with over 100 pirate attacks and over 40 vessels captured by pirates this year. The authorities in Puntland and Somaliland told the UN monitoring group that “maritime traffic from Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden, remains their largest single source of arms.” Weapons purchased in Yemen are also smuggled to insurgent groups in Ethiopia, the investigation found. One intercepted shipment included 101 anti-tank mines, 100 hand grenades, 170 rocket-propelled grenade-7 rounds, and 170 boxes of 7.62 mm ammunition.
Increased activity by the Yemeni Coast Guard between Aden and al Mukalla impacted arms shipments from ports in the patrolled areas. However, the monitoring group found that the lack of regular patrols in al Mukalla “means that arms traffic continues unabated.” The group recommended capacity building programs for the Coast Guard and direct naval interdiction.
Yemen’s coast line extends 1906 km. The Coast Guard, created in 2003, is working towards taking control of Mocha and al Mukalla from the military. The Republican Guard and Central Security forces have authority at ports where the Coast Guard has limited presence. The Coast Guard has nine operational ships in a fleet of 15, and only two with deep water capacity.
Inadequate funding is an obstacle to increased capacity, Coast Guard Commander Ali Ahmed Ras’ee said in May.
The US provides some operational and training support and in 2004 donated seven patrol boats. With Italian financing, the Italian firm SELEX is implementing a coastal radar system that will eventually cover 450km of coast line including hot spots for piracy and smuggling.
Responding to the UN report, the Foreign Ministry said, “Yemen reiterates its readiness to cooperate with the UN and all regional concerned parties to fight piracy and all forms of weapon smuggling, the issues resulted due to the situation in Somalia where there is not a central government.”
Yemen has the second most heavily armed citizenry per capita after the United States. In August 2007, authorities implemented a ban against carrying weapons in cities and have confiscated over 150,000 weapons since the program began. Over 200 weapons shops were also closed.
Weapons smuggling from Yemen to Saudi Arabia is also a concern. In July, Saudi Arabia announced that in a three month period, border guards confiscated over a ton of explosives and a large number of arms including 13 rocket-propelled grenades, 99 sticks of dynamite, 100 fuses, 12 detonators, more than 100 guns and 15,000 cartridges.