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UN Team Postpones Visit to Horn of Africa

A U.N. Security Council assessment team, formed to investigate alleged violations of an 11-year-old arms embargo on Somalia, has abruptly postponed its scheduled visit to the Horn of Africa region.

A U.N. spokesperson in Nairobi declined to give a reason for the postponement of the trip that was to have begun Sunday. It is not known when the team might travel to the region.

Experts from all 15 U.N. Security Council member states had planned to make a two-week visit to Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, and - depending on the security situation - Somalia.

The United Nations says the primary purpose of the trip is to check on the ability of Somalia's neighbors in the Horn to enforce the 1992 U.N.-mandated arms embargo. The Security Council team is also expected to discuss ways for the countries to strengthen the embargo.

In a critical report to the Security Council earlier this month, a Nairobi-based U.N. panel of experts accused a number of countries in the Horn region and the Middle East of violating the embargo by providing weapons, equipment, money and training to rival Somali factions.

The experts warned the dismissive attitude toward the embargo will continue until the international community holds violators accountable.

The flow of arms into Somalia has been widely blamed for fueling the country's civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people in more than a decade of fighting. Somalia does not yet have a recognized government and has been ruled by warlords since the government of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.

Through a series of peace talks in neighboring Kenya, regional mediators have been trying to restore a government to Somalia. But they have had little success in mediating a peace deal among the warlords.

Kenya's political and diplomatic liaison officer at the talks, James Kiboi, said that without a vigorously enforced mechanism to stop the arms flow and to disarm the militias, a government picked at the Nairobi talks would find it impossible to restore law and order. "Without a mechanism like that, it will be really difficult to monitor Somalia and Somalia will always be a place that is going to be used by many people of bad intentions to further their interests," he said.

In recent years, Somalia is believed to have become an active base for terrorist organizations, seeking to recruit militants and plot terror activities in the region.