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Wed 29 Jul 2009 11:37 AM

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Some Somalis in Dubai supporting piracy - UN envoy

Small group of Somalis granted UAE asylum are suspected of piracy and illegal weapons trade.

A small group of Somalis granted asylum by the UAE are suspected of supporting piracy in the lawless Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, a senior UN envoy said.

UN special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that he believed "some elements of the Somali community in Dubai are involved in a number of activities which are undermining peace in Somalia."

Those activities include piracy, illegal weapons transfers that skirt a UN arms embargo, and possibly indirect financial support for Islamist-led rebels who the government is struggling to subdue, he said. He added that the number of individuals involved was small, probably around half a dozen.

"But this is big money," Ould-Abdallah said.

The UN envoy stopped short of urging the authorities in Dubai, the financial hub of the Middle East, to crack down on any Somalis involved in such activity. But he called on those with asylum not to get involved in any illegal activity.

Ould-Abdallah will brief the UN Security Council on Wednesday on the situation in Somalia. Among the things he said he would urge the 15-nation panel to do is to voice its support for the transitional government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and to ask him to continue talking with the opposition.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to meet Sharif during a seven-nation trip to Africa next week on the sidelines of an annual trade forum with sub-Saharan countries in Nairobi, the State Department said on Monday.

Washington has repeatedly pointed the finger at Somalia's neighbour Eritrea for supporting rebels in Somalia intent on toppling its weak government. Asmara has denied the allegations, but members of the Security Council are considering the possibility of sanctions against Eritrea for its suspected aid to Somali rebels.

The council will also hear a report from its Somalia sanctions committee on Wednesday. Council diplomats told Reuters that the issue of Eritrea's involvement in Somalia may come up during that report.

A two-year insurgency has killed at least 18,000 people and sent another million or more fleeing from their homes. Hundreds of thousands have died of war, famine and disease since the collapse of a dictatorship brought anarchy in 1991.

Somalia's army – a mix of former rebels, clan militias and a few ex-army officers – has been unable to beat al Shabaab militants or rebels from another Islamist group, Hizbul Islam.

An international naval operation aimed at cracking down on piracy in Somali waters, where dozens of ships have been hijacked this year, has improved the situation and shown the people of Somalia that the international community cares, Ould-Abdallah said.

He said it was time for the UN Somalia operations to move its headquarters from Nairobi to the Somali capital Mogadishu to show solidarity with the Somali people.

"We should build a 'green zone' in Mogadishu, like there is in Iraq," the envoy said, referring to the heavily fortified zone where the US military and others have had their headquarters.

Ould-Abdallah has repeatedly called on the Security Council to approve a UN peacekeeping mission to replace a struggling 4,300-strong African Union force in Somalia. But council members are reluctant to do so before the political situation in the country has stabilised. (Reuters)

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