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Mogadishu becomes hot spot for quick, illegal arm sales

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Before the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab retreated from the African nation of Somalia, guns and ammunition were sold openly at Mogadishu's Bakara Market, the city's main business hub. The government ordered weapon traders to cease selling their wares after taking control of the market. Unauthorized weapon sales have continued here unabated, popping up in such areas as such Zobe, where Ak-47s can be had at inflated prices.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - While there are no shops to sell their wares, gun sellers are enjoying a booming business. "There are only about 30 of us selling guns here. But in Bakara Market there were hundreds of us. Fewer sellers mean less competition and higher prices," Ahmed Ilka'ase, a longtime arms dealer tells Al Jazeera.

Prices for weapons are up. A second-hand AK-47 two years ago used to cost $350; today it costs $750. The price of bullets has also shot up from 50 cents to a $1 apiece. 

Ilka'ase said he makes at least $50 profit for each Ak-47 he sells - more than many earn in a month in Mogadishu. "I sell at least two guns a day, so on a quiet day I take home $100."

Somalia's lengthy civil war has left the country awash in small arms. It's estimated that the figure is about 550,000 to 750,000, and only about 14,000 of them are registered.

The United Nations Monitoring Group reported that between 2004 and 2011, almost 50,000 instances involving the transfer of small arms and light weapons in Somalia. To protect civilians and curb the flow of weapons to those involved in the Somali civil war, the U.N. imposed an arms embargo in 1992.

Somalia's new, internationally recognized government - in office since September 2012 - is campaigning to have the embargo lifted. Human rights groups are concerned that lifting the ban will inflame the conflict in this Horn of Africa nation.

"To lift the arms embargo would allow even more unregulated weapons into Somalia with no safeguards and no controls," Gemma Davies, Somalia researcher at Amnesty International says.

"We believe that the government still lacks the capacity to prevent the diversion of substantial quantities of its own weaponry and military equipment to other armed groups and to Somalia's domestic arms market."

The Somali government argues that they need weapons for their ill-equipped army, which continues to fight al-Shabab, claiming no government weapons will fall into to the hands of the wrong group.

"After the ban is lifted and before we buy any weapons, we will put in place checks to prevent weapons going to anyone other than our soldiers. That's number-one priority for our government, and we are already working on that," Deputy Defense Minister Abdirahman Kulmiye Hirsi says.

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