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Somali Government Calls For End to Arms Embargo

Members of Somalia's al-Shabaab militant group parade during a demonstration to announce integration with al Qaida, in Elasha, south of the capital Mogadishu, February 13, 2012

Somalia's government has called for the end to an international arms embargo on the country, so that it can better fight the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

A government statement Monday said al-Shabab's union with al-Qaida, announced last week, will increase regional insecurity. It said that Somalia could become a base for the terrorist network.

The government said it wants an end to the U.N. embargo, imposed in 1992 after Somalia's last stable government fell and the country descended into chronic violence.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks at a news conference in Cape Town, February 13, 2012
British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks at a news conference in Cape Town, February 13, 2012

However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke out against the idea while talking to reporters in South Africa Monday.

"Lifting the arms embargo would be difficult to do under those circumstances, I think it would be very unwise to do," said Hague. "What we are trying to do is make sure that the African Union and U.N.-supported forces in Somalia are strengthened, and have the funding to do their job and grow in number over the coming years."

Hague said those goals will be discussed at an upcoming international conference on Somalia in London.

Weapons have continued to flow to Somalia despite the United Nations ban. The U.N. Security Council has accused Eritrea of arming al-Shabab -- an allegation Eritrea denies.

In an interview with VOA'S Somali Service, an al-Shabab official defended the merger with al-Qaida. Sheikh Mohamed Osman Arous called the union an "Islamic obligation."

"Muslims share Islamic religion," said Arous. "Any Muslim from anywhere in the world can unite with a Muslim brother on the other side, and we have to become one."

He said al-Qaida and al-Shabab plan to work toward the application of sharia, or Islamic law, across Somalia.

Al-Shabab is known for imposing a strict form of sharia in the parts of Somalia under its control. The group has executed people or chopped off their hands for alleged crimes.

A crowd of at least several hundred people attended an al-Shabab-organized rally Monday west of the capital, Mogadishu.

The group was recently pushed out of the capital by government and African Union troops, but continues to carry out attacks in the city, including a deadly suicide car bombing last week.

Al-Shabab still controls large sections of southern and central Somalia, although it is facing pressure from Ethiopian troops in the center and Kenyan troops in the south.

Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri welcomed the group into al-Qaida last week through a video message posted to jihadist websites.

Al-Shabab had previously pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, and the group has long been suspected of deploying al-Qaida-trained fighters from abroad.