BARAWE Somalia (Reuters) - Somalia’s president said on Saturday he would halt charcoal exports from Barawe, a port town recaptured from an Islamist group who U.N. investigators said had benefited from the illegal trade.
The U.N. Security Council forbade charcoal exports from Somalia in 2012 in a bid to cut off al Shabaab’s funding, but the group largely ignored the ban.
A report seen by Reuters on Friday, the U.N. Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring group wrote that the militants earned tens of millions dollars in the past year from charcoal exports using the southern ports of Barawe and Kismayu.
The al Qaeda-affiliated group wants to impose its strict version of Islamic law on the Horn of Africa nation and has carried out attacks on neighboring countries such as Kenya.
“Somalia had banned charcoal exports and we also sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council urging them to do something about the countries which import charcoal from Somalia,” President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told journalists and residents.
He was speaking during his first trip to Barawe since a force of African Union peacekeepers and Somali army drove out al Shabaab on Sunday. The president arrived by helicopter.
“We urge you to participate in peacemaking and confront anyone who causes chaos,” said the president, who is trying to rebuild a nation that has been shattered by more than two decades of conflict and chaos.
Barawe was al Shabaab’s last major coastal stronghold. Al Shabaab lost control of Kismayu in 2012 and it has been under the control of Kenya’s contingent in the African Union AMISOM force since then.
The U.N. monitors said that, between June 2013 and January 2014, charcoal was mainly exported from Kismayu and Barawe and since January shipments were primarily made from Kismayu where port operations are supervised by the Ras Kamboni militia and the Kenyan army, which has denied allegations it aided exports.
Charcoal was mainly shipped to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait, the U.N. monitors said.
Losing control of Barawe and the killing last month of al Shabaab’s leader, Ahmed Godane, are big blows to the Islamist group, but Somali officials and Western diplomats say the group has proved adaptable to setbacks, turning to guerrilla tactics.
After controlling Mogadishu and much of the country for several years, it has lost ground but remained a potent fighting force even after being driven out of Mogadishu, the federal capital, in 2011. It has staged frequent bomb and gun attacks.
Last year, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, that left at least 67 dead.
“We want to pardon and rehabilitate those who surrender from al Shabaab. We shall eliminate the terrorists from Somalia,” the president, referring to an amnesty for al Shabaab members announced early last month after Godane’s death.
Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky