- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya — Ten nations and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have been supplying weapons to an Islamic militia that controls much of Somalia, thus violating an international arms embargo, according to a U.N. commission report obtained yesterday.

But analysts and diplomats expressed deep skepticism about a claim in the report that 720 Somali mercenaries fought alongside Hezbollah in its month-long summer battle with Israel. There were also doubts about the U.N. panel’s findings that Iran shipped arms to the Islamist militants in return for access to uranium mines in the hometown of the top Islamic leader.

The Iranian government, in a letter to the United Nations, also strenuously denied shipping weapons to Somalia.

The U.N. panel, charged with monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia, said Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uganda all had supported armed groups inside Somalia.

“At the time of the writing of the present report, there were two Iranians in Dhusa Mareb engaged in matters linked to uranium in exchange for arms,” said the report, which has not been released to the public. Iran also supplied an aircraft to fly 40 Somalis wounded in Lebanon back to Somalia, it added.

A Hezbollah official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because no formal statement from the group had been released, dismissed the report as “totally baseless.”

Hezbollah is an exclusively Lebanese Shi’ite organization that does not recruit foreigners. The group is also fervently Shi’ite Muslim, which clashes theologically with the Sunni form of Islam practiced in Somalia. There have also been no other reports of any Africans fighting in Lebanon.

The Islamic courts had only about 2,000 trained militiamen when the fighting in Lebanon began this past July, so it seems unlikely they would send their best men out of the country when they were needed at home.

Ted Dagne, a Somalia specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said he questioned some of the report’s contents.

“It would be hard not to notice a black man fighting in Lebanon,” he said, adding that he also doubted significant Iranian involvement within Somalia. “The Saudis are probably more active than the Iranians.”

A diplomat who has closely followed developments in Somalia also found errors in the report’s details on certain arms shipments.

But according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of low-grade uranium can be easily mined in Dhusa Mareb, home to Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, a top leader in the Islamist movement.

Sheik Aweys’ Council of Islamic Courts has competed directly with an internationally backed government, which so far has failed to assert itself outside of one town.

Both the government, which is backed by Ethiopia, and the Islamic courts, which are backed by Eritrea, have been preparing for an all-out war for control of Somalia, the report concluded.

The four-member panel, which includes a Belgian, an American, a Kenyan and a Colombian, based the report on their own investigations, interviews and material supplied by embassies in Nairobi.

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