MELISSA BLOCK, host:
There is an alarming new report about the situation in Somalia. United Nations monitors say seven countries and various groups are supporting Islamists who control much of the country. Weapons are pouring in from various sources despite an arms embargo, and there are fears that the conflict could spread throughout the Horn of Africa.
As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the U.N monitors also tie Somalia's Islamists to the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The U.N.-backed transitional government in Somalia is no match for the Islamic Courts Union, which controls much of the country and has sponsors near and far. That's according to the report of the U.N.'s monitoring group on Somalia.
It says Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen have all sent weapons and military equipment to the interim government, which is holed up in the city of Baidoa. The Islamic Courts Union receives more diverse and sophisticated weapons and various other support from Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters in Nairobi today that countries need to stay out of Somalia.
Mr. KOFI ANNAN (U.N. Secretary General): It's all ready difficult and volatile situation. We do not need and to see it further complicated by neighboring countries rushing in with troops or guns to support one side or the other. It will only compound the problem.
KELEMEN: The U.N. report is on the alarmist side, according to Ken Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson College who monitors Somalia and was there after the Islamic Courts Union took Mogadishu in the spring.
Professor KEN MENKHAUS (Davidson College): We've got a very wide range of opinions about the nature of the Courts, their leadership, their intentions, ranging from very sanguine to very alarmist, and this one is certainly more alarmist.
KELEMEN: But he says the report does back up its arguments with a lot of detailed information. The U.N. panel reported that there are a considerable number of foreign fighters in Somalia, helping the Islamic Courts, and it alleged that Iranians were trying to trade arms for uranium. Iran denied sending any weapons to the Islamic Courts Union.
Menkhaus and other analysts had doubts about another section of the report, which said that the Islamists sent more than 700 Somalis to Lebanon to fight alongside Hezbollah in the war with Israel over the summer. Menkhaus said he'd be surprise if Somalis were actually involved in the fighting, though he does suspect that the militia the report referred to has been trained abroad.
Professor MENKHAUS: The Shabab militia includes quite a few young Somali Diaspora members from North America and Europe and South Asia who have passports elsewhere, who are accruing new skills in things like remote detonated explosives and things that if they returned home really become an immediate security issue for us. That's something I'm losing sleep about.
KELEMEN: But his biggest near term fear is not about the potential for Somalia to become a breeding ground for terrorists, but rather that it could be the scene of a regional proxy war in the Horn of Africa. And he says the U.S., the U.N. and others haven't done enough to prevent this from happening.
Professor MENKHAUS: Pretty much everyone is spinning their wheels right now in Somalia mainly because Somalia just, as usual, presents the world with only a set of bad options.
KELEMEN: The U.N. report, which is to be discussed in New York on Friday, has some advice for diplomats - strengthen the arms embargo, interdict arm shipments before they reach Somalia and get countries in the region to avoid a military catastrophe and give Somalis some room to negotiate a political settlement to their problems.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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