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The US State Department is sending arms to Somalia to aid the beleaguered Somali government in its struggle with Islamic rebels. The weapons shipment could mark an increase in US involvement in the region, which officials worry could become a haven for Islamic terrorists.
The Los Angeles Times reports that State Department officials confirmed Thursday that the US is shipping arms to Somalia. The officials said that the government was also increasing humanitarian aid to Somalia, though they declined to say how much money was being spent in that regard.
US officials underscored that the US support for Somalia would not involve US troops, the Times adds. They also said that they hoped the US aid would encourage other nations to offer their own support to the Somalian transitional government.
The US aid comes as the Somali transitional government is struggling just to function. BBC reports that since the latest round of fighting began in May, many members of the Somali parliament have fled the country for fear of assassination. Now as few as 280 members of parliament out of 550 total remain within the country; 250 are needed to make a quorum.
Nonetheless, both Kenya and Ethiopia have shown indications that they may get involved. The Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday that Kenyan forces were massing at the Somali border, and "while Interior Minister George Saitoti assured Kenyans that Kenya would not intervene in Somalia, it was clear that other ministers and defense officials were preparing for such a step."
The Sudan Tribune reports that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that while there is no immediate need for Ethiopia to intervene in Somalia, "We want to wait and see how the international community as a whole responds and then see if there is any need to revisit our position on the matter."
The US aid comes amid reports that Al Shabab, one of the Islamic rebel groups fighting the Western-supported Somali government, has been more forcefully asserting its presence in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. The New York Times reports that in Mogadishu Thursday, Al Shabab publicly amputated the right hands and left legs of four young men that it accused of theft.
The Times writes that the punishment, carried out in accordance with the rebels' strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, was the first of its kind in Mogadishu in 15 years. The Times adds that analysts think that the public punishments may be an effort by Al Shabab "to win popular support in the capital by showing that it could achieve stability in the chaotic nation through a firm enactment of Shariah, or Islamic law."