The U.N. Security Council is considering lifting an arms embargo on Somalia's government for one year so it can beef up its army to combat Islamist fighters, according to a draft resolution that is due to be voted on by the divided council on Wednesday.
The Somalia government has asked for the arms embargo to be lifted and the United States has been pushing the council to agree, but Britain and France have been wary of removing the ban in a country already awash with weapons, diplomats say.
The draft resolution, drawn up by Britain and obtained by Reuters, appears to propose a compromise: lifting the arms embargo for one year but keeping restrictions in place on heavy weapons such as surface to air missiles, howitzers and cannons.
The draft resolution says the arms embargo shall not apply to the deliveries of other "weapons or military equipment or the provision of advice, assistance or training, intended solely for the development of the security forces of the federal government of Somalia and to provide security for the Somali people."
It says that these weapons and equipment "may not be resold to, transferred to, or made available for use by, any individual or entity not in the service of the security forces of the federal government of Somalia."
The 15-member council imposed the arms embargo in 1992 to cut the flow of arms to feuding warlords, who a year earlier ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged Somalia into civil war. Somalia held its first national vote since 1991 last year to elect a president and prime minister.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month suggested the Security Council consider lifting the arms embargo to help rebuild Somalia's forces and consolidate military gains against al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants.
But some council members are concerned about the security risks involved with removing the arms embargo and one council diplomats said the proposed move "sends shivers down the spine."
The Security Council's Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, an independent panel that reports on compliance with U.N. sanctions, have warned that the Islamist militants in Somalia are receiving weapons from distribution networks linked to Yemen and Iran, diplomats have told Reuters.
A U.N. diplomat also said the U.N. monitors had reported that some al Shabaab militants had infiltrated units of the Somali security forces.
The council is scheduled to vote on the draft resolution on Wednesday before the mandate of the 17,600-strong AU peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, expires on Thursday. The resolution would renew AU peacekeeping force for one year and reconfigure the U.N. mission in the Horn of Africa country.
AU troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia are battling al Shabaab militants on several fronts in Somalia and have forced them to abandon significant territory in southern and central areas of the country.
The militants, who affiliated themselves with al Qaeda in February last year, launched their campaign against the government in early 2007, seeking to impose sharia, or strict Islamic law, on the entire country.
The Somali government believes lifting the embargo will help it strengthen its poorly equipped, ill-disciplined military - more a group of rival militias than a cohesive fighting force loyal to a single president.
The draft resolution requires that the Somalia government or the country delivering assistance notify the Security Council "at least five days in advance of any deliveries of weapons and military equipment ... providing details of such deliveries and assistance and the specific place of delivery in Somalia."
It also asks the government to report regularly on the structure of the security forces and the infrastructure and procedures in place to ensure safe storage, maintenance and distribution of military equipment.
The removal of the arms embargo would be reviewed in one year, according to the draft resolution.