MOGADISHU, Somalia – A radical Islamic group in Somalia has threatened to seize weapons and ammunition the U.S. has supplied to the nation's embattled government.
But Uganda, a key U.S. ally in the region, praised the arms shipment.
Both were responding to an announcement by U.S. officials last week that the Obama administration had supplied arms and provided military training worth just under $10 million to the east African country's shaky official government.
The Obama's administration's goal is to provide the faltering Somali government with weapons and to help armies in several neighboring African nations train Somali forces. But experts have expressed concern that the arms may end up diverted to insurgent groups.
Sheik Hassan Ya'qub, a spokesman for the militant group al-Shabab in the port town of Kismayo, said late Sunday: "The weapons sent to the so-called government will only escalate violence in Somalia and we, the holy warriors, believe that we will eventually seize them."
Washington considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida, which al-Shabab denies. The group, which controls much of southern Somalia, is trying to drive out the government and install a strict form of Islam.
"I welcome (the) U.S.A.'s sending of weapons to Somalia," said Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, a major contributor of troops to the African Union force in the Somali capital.
The African Union and the U.N. "support Somalia's government, and if the U.S. comes out to support it, it is a good gesture," Museveni told reporters in the Ugandan port town of Entebbe on Monday.
Over the past two months, Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed's government has come under heavy attacks from Islamic insurgents pounding government positions with mortars and targeting senior officials in suicide attacks. During an intense two-week period of fighting in the capital in May about 200 civilians were killed.
It is unclear how al-Shabab, an extremist Islamic group fighting to overthrow the government, will follow through on its threat to seize the arms. U.S. officials said last week that the arms were supplied through the African Union force in the Somali capital, which has firm control of Mogadishu's main air and sea port even though Al-Shabab controls other parts of Mogadishu.
In May, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development — a group of seven countries in the Horn of Africa region that has led past peace talks on Somalia — imposed a sea and air blockade to stop military supplies reaching the Islamic insurgents in Somalia. It is not clear whether the blockade has been effective.
There has been a U.N. arms embargo on Somalia since 1992, but it is regularly violated. The U.N. amended the embargo in 2006 to allow the deployment of an African Union force in Somalia without violating international law.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when the overthrow of a dictatorship plunged the country into chaos. That also has allowed pirates to operate freely in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline.