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UN probes anti-terror Somalis' clandestine support

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, May 10 (Reuters) UN experts said today they were investigating an unnamed country's clandestine support for an anti-terrorism alliance of powerful warlords in Somalia, in apparent violation of a UN arms embargo.

Their report to the UN Security Council came as fighting raged in the Somali capital Mogadishu between alliance militias and gunmen allied to militant Islamic fundamentalists, the third round of such fighting this year.

The experts, charged with monitoring enforcement of the UN embargo, gave no hint as to the identity of the country providing the secret assistance. But Somalia's interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, last week named Washington as backer of the warlords.

The warlords call their coalition the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism in what some see as a ploy to win U.S. backing.

Analysts say the surge of fighting in Mogadishu suggests the Horn of Africa state has become a new proxy battleground for Islamic militants and the United States, which is widely believed to be funding the warlords.

''The Monitoring Group was informed that during January and February 2006, and at other times not specified in the present section, financial support was being provided to help organize and structure a militia force created to counter the threat posed by the growing militant fundamentalist movement in central and southern Somalia,'' the experts said.

They said APRCT participants reportedly included the militias of four dissident cabinet members of Somalia's shaky Transitional Federal Government. Somali business leaders also were reportedly involved in the coalition, the experts said.

INVESTIGATION STILL UNDER WAY ''The Monitoring Group did not specify third-country involvement because at the time of the writing of the present report it had not completed its investigation,'' it said.

Washington has long viewed Somalia, without an effective central government since 1991, as a terrorist haven.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in response to the interim president's allegations that Washington would ''work with responsible individuals ... in fighting terror.

It's a real concern of ours -- terror taking root in the Horn of Africa. We don't want to see another safe haven for terrorists created.'' Some diplomats and security officials say there are a handful of al Qaeda-linked operatives working around Mogadishu, but Somalis do not generally support hard-line views of Islam and are distrustful of most foreigners.

Somalia has been in chaos since the overthrow 15 years ago of a military leader. Clan rivalries are fueled by guns left over from the Cold War and from lively regional arms markets.

The United States and then a combined US-UN force intervened in 1992-1993 but left several years later with the country in shambles.

The experts' new report said arms embargo violations had continued ''at a steady pace'' in recent months, contributing to a steady military buildup in central and southern Somalia.

While many of the weapons were acquired locally, some shipments have come from Horn of Africa neighbors Eritrea and Ethiopia, the report said, adding that Eritrea had denied being a source of arms while Ethiopia had not responded.

Other shipments originated in Italy, but Rome denied any involvement, it said. Saudi Arabia and Djibouti supplied military uniforms to the transitional government, also in apparent violation of the embargo terms, but both countries denied any violations, the report said.

REUTERS PDS PM0056

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