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Watchdog Calls for Tougher Somalia Arms Controls

International watchdog Amnesty International is calling for arms transfers to Somalia's transitional government to be suspended, because it says those weapons are being used to commit war crimes. But some analysts warn that if weapons are not sent in, Somalia's beleaguered government may be taken over by armed militias.

Amnesty International says the military assistance given to Somalia's transitional government needs tougher controls.

An arms embargo is in place for Somalia, but exemptions can be given by the United Nations in order to transfer weapons to the Somali government, which is under attack from Islamist militants.

Amnesty International says U.S. shipments of arms, including mortars and ammunition, risk increasing the level of human-rights abuses in the conflict-ridden country.

Amnesty International representative Benedicte Goderiaux says some of the weapons shipped from the West are diverted to armed militant groups.

"Military assistance given to the government risks being diverted to the armed groups, the very armed groups that the international community means to weaken," she said.

And she says the Transitional Federal Government is itself responsible for human-rights abuses.

"The Transitional Federal Government forces have been responsible for indiscriminate attacks against civilians, in particular in Mogadishu, where they have responded to attacks by armed groups by firing mortars into urban areas populated by civilians," she added.

Somalia has been mired in armed conflict since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991.

Several-thousand African Union troops protect the Somali government, which right now only controls a small part of the capital Mogadishu.

The United States, European Union countries, and several East African countries have committed to training over 20,000 soldiers and police.

International Crisis Group Horn of Africa Project Director Ernst Jan Hogendoorn says putting an end to arms transfers could be a mistake. He says arms transferred to Somalia's government from the West are crucial to prevent the rise of Islamic insurgency group Al Shabaab.

"If the West stops its military support for the TFG, that essentially invites a take-over by Al Shebaab," he cautioned.

But he says it is important that the transfer of weapons is coupled with thorough military training.

"Part of the challenge that has occurred right now is that the West, when it does provide security assistance, it only does so in a fairly haphazard manner," he said. "And thus what you get is you get short-term training of forces, but you do not get the kind of sophisticated training that would be required to provide for disciplined military that actually is responsive to human-rights concerns," he said.

Amnesty International says 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting in Somalia and 3.7-million are dependent on humanitarian assistance.