UN highlights illegal Somali charcoal trafficking to Iran

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Syrians using charcoal to smoke a shisha, or hookah, water pipe -- UN experts warn that Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked militia, the Al-Shabaab, are breaking sanctions on the export of charcoal by using ports in Iran where the product is repackaged and sold onwards.  By Yasin AKGUL (AFP)Syrians using charcoal to smoke a shisha, or hookah, water pipe — UN experts warn that Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked militia, the Al-Shabaab, are breaking sanctions on the export of charcoal by using ports in Iran where the product is repackaged and sold onwards. By Yasin AKGUL (AFP)

Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab rebels are profiting from the illegal trafficking of charcoal exports produced in Somalia and transiting through Iran, United Nations experts said in a report recently shared with the UN Security Council.

“The process involved using false Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana certificates of origin to import Somali charcoal, repackaging the charcoal from typical blue-green bags into white bags labeled as ‘Product of Iran,'” said the report, excerpts of which AFP has obtained.

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The document, which has not yet been made public, said Iranian ports in the Kish and Qeshm free zones have been the main destinations of the shipments since March 2018.

They would then travel onwards to ports in countries including the United Arab Emirates and Oman, where the charcoal is mainly used for smoking shisha water pipes.

The UN has banned Somali charcoal imports since 2012 in order to cut sources of revenue for the Shabaab, which levies taxes on charcoal production in regions they control.

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The world body estimates that some 3.6 million bags of charcoal were produced in 2017 for exports, generating some $7.5 million in revenue for the Shabaab.

The report shared with the Security Council was drafted by a UN group of experts tasked with applying sanctions slapped on Somalia.

The document called Iran a “weak link” in implementing the charcoal ban and pointed to countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast for allowing charcoal traffickers to “exploit weaknesses” in the certification processes.

“Overall implementation of the charcoal ban by member states has improved compared to the previous mandate, and seizures of cargoes of Somali charcoal by Oman and the UAE have been influential in deterring the illicit charcoal trade,” it added.

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“However, implementation has also been inconsistent.”

The Shabaab have vowed to overthrow the Somali government, which is backed by the international community and the 20,000-strong African Union mission in the country, AMISOM.

While they were pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 and lost many of their bastions, they still control vast rural zones in the country.

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