The UN Security Council has agreed to partially lift a decades-old arms embargo on Somalia for one year, allowing the government in Mogadishu to buy light weapons to strengthen its security forces to fight the armed al-Shabab group.
The 15-member council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a British-drafted resolution that also renewed a 17,600-strong African Union peacekeeping force for a year and reconfigured the UN mission in the Horn of Africa country.
Somalia's government had asked for the arms embargo to be removed and the US supported that, but other Security Council members were wary about completely lifting the embargo on a country that is already awash with weapons, diplomats said.
"What we have tried to do is draw a balance between those who wanted an unrestricted lifting of the arms embargo and those who felt it was premature to lift the arms embargo," Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's UN ambassador, told reporters after the vote.
"It is a good and strong compromise."
The embargo was imposed on Somalia in 1992 to cut the flow of weapons to feuding warlords, who a year earlier had ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into civil war.
Somalia held its first vote last year to elect a president and prime minister since 1991.
"Yes there are major challenges, but we are now ... moving away from international trusteeship of the situation in Somalia towards supporting the government's efforts to address its own problems," the British diplomat said.
The UN resolution would allow sales of such weapons as automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but leaves in place a ban on surface-to-air missiles, large-calibre guns, howitzers, cannons and mortars as well as anti-tank guided weapons, mines and night vision weapon sights.
It also requires that the Somalia government or the country delivering assistance notify the Security Council "at least five days in advance of any deliveries of weapons and military equipment ... providing details of such deliveries and assistance and the specific place of delivery in Somalia".
'Vote of confidence'
The Somali government believes lifting the embargo will help it strengthen its poorly equipped, ill-disciplined military, which is more a collection of rival militias than a cohesive fighting force loyal to a single president.
"The support is a vote of confidence for the government of Somalia given the improvement of the security situation in that country," Argentina's UN Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval told the Council.
The AU peacekeeping force - made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia - is battling al-Shabab fighters on several fronts in Somalia and has forced them to abandon significant territory in southern and central areas.
The group, who affiliated themselves with the al-Qaeda in February last year, launched their campaign against the
government in early 2007, seeking to impose sharia, or Islamic law, on the entire country.
Amnesty International, Human rights group, on Monday called on the UN not to lift the embargo, describing the idea as premature and warning that it could "expose Somali civilians to even greater risk and worsen the humanitarian situation".