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ANALYSIS-Somalia Report Leak Reveals Splits, Maneuvers
NAIROBI, Nov 22, 2006 – An explosive U.N. report on how foreign arms supplies are accelerating Somalia's slide to war has exposed splits among Western powers and raised questions about why it was leaked.
Regional analysts and diplomats broadly backed the report's conclusion that a web of Muslim and pro-Western nations are pouring weapons into Somalia to strengthen powerful Islamists on one side and a shaky interim government on the other.
But they said some of its less credible claims suggested the report's authors may have been fed disinformation by intelligence agencies and others to promote their own agenda in one of Africa's most strategic and volatile regions. The leaking of the report and its aftermath appear to uncover differences in the West over what to do about Somalia.
One side may be hoping regional power and U.S. ally Ethiopia can crush the Islamists -- seen as a dangerous al Qaeda ally in the Horn of Africa -- while the other, including the report's authors, fears a disastrous conflagration that would attract global jihadists.
Some analysts and diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer had recently changed policy on Somalia in favour of deploying a peacekeeping force.
This is a policy long promoted by the regional body IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) and the interim government but fiercely opposed by the Islamists.
The U.N. report warned such a deployment would hasten war.
The European Commission put similar concerns to EU member states on Tuesday, saying the deployment could act as cover for a military operation against the Islamists and unleash a huge regional conflict, Commission sources said.
The Commission's Africa experts said in a report circulated to EU ambassadors that U.S. officials were preparing a U.N. resolution calling for an easing of the widely flaunted 1992 arms embargo on Somalia to enable deployment of peacekeepers.
A State Department official denied Washington wanted to impose a solution in Somalia.
The U.N. report, originally obtained by Reuters a week ago, said Eritrea, Syria, Iran, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia had sent soldiers, supplies or weapons to the Islamists, while Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen are supplying the government.
Most of these nations vehemently denied the report and four, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda, are members of IGAD.
"It paints a very accurate picture of increased arms flows into Somalia," said Matt Bryden of the International Crisis Group think tank. He said 85-90 percent of the report is "very accurate, meticulously documented, very, very good."
But most analysts and diplomats expressed severe misgivings about two elements of the report -- that more than 700 Somali fighters reinforced the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel last July, and that Iran is seeking uranium in Somalia in exchange for weapons. "I have sincere doubts about some parts of the report," said Simon Wezeman, an arms expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, reflecting a widely-held view.
Both an Israeli army spokesman and a senior Lebanese security source dismissed the report on Somalis fighting in Lebanon where such a large number would have been hard to miss. A diplomat in Nairobi who specializes in Somalia but asked not to be identified, told Reuters: "Overall the picture looks very likely but there are some major question marks over what are unfortunately the juiciest bits of the report."
Several diplomats and analysts said the aim of these elements and the leak might have been to demonize the Islamists by reinforcing reports they have strong ties with radical Muslim governments and al Qaeda-linked groups.
The Nairobi diplomat said the attempt to paint the Islamists as a danger for the wider region might be intended to prepare for war when east Africa's current rainy season ends.
The United States has accused the Islamists, who have seized much of south-central Somalia since defeating U.S.-backed warlords in Mogadishu in June, of harboring al Qaeda militants.
It has also warned that neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia could be targets of these groups.
The U.N. report accused Ethiopia and Eritrea of being the biggest violators of the arms embargo and said a Somalia conflict could swiftly become a proxy war between these two powers, still at daggers-drawn after a 1998-2000 war that killed 70,000 people.
A U.N. committee on Tuesday agreed to submit the report to a full meeting of the Security Council and to give the accused governments an opportunity to meet the four authors. (Additional reporting by Bryson Hull in Nairobi, David Morgan in Washington, Paul Taylor in Brussels, Mark Trevelyan in London, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Nadim Ladki in Beirut and Louis Charbonneau in Berlin)