By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON (Reuters) - Somalia's armed forces have not received "a single bullet" despite the partial lifting of a United Nations arms embargo because the East African country lacks funds, its defense minister said on Wednesday.
Somalia's new leaders aim to train and equip a professional army of around 28,000 soldiers within three years but are hamstrung by a lack of cash, Abdihakim Fiqi said during a trip to London to drum up donor support.
"The arms embargo was lifted almost two months ago and we haven't received a single bullet or one single AK-47 or gun. Nothing. Because of lack of resources," Fiqi told the Royal United Services Institute defense think tank in London.
The Horn of Africa nation is only just emerging from two decades of civil war, and is struggling to rebuild a country riven by clan divisions and whose infrastructure and institutions are in tatters.
A newly appointed parliament last year elected a new president, the first vote of its kind since the toppling of former military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
In recognition of the legitimacy of Somalia's new leadership, the United Nations in March partially lifted an arms embargo on Somalia, allowing it to buy light weapons.
Somali forces currently number in the low thousands, and are a poorly equipped and fragmented mixture of state troops and militias struggling to battle al Shabaab Islamist militants, who want to impose their brand of Islamic law on Somalia.
"For the last four months our soldiers are just sitting back not doing anything. Al Shabaab are fighting them, engaging them, attacking them. They are just in the defense position ... due to a lack of weapons and ammunition," Fiqi said.
African Union peacekeepers have been largely responsible for pushing al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab out of the capital Mogadishu and other urban centers in the past two years, but the group is still able to launch major attacks, including a suicide bombing on Sunday that killed at least eight people.
Fiqi declined to give an estimate for the number al Shabaab fighters remaining, but said due to a lack of funding the group was mired in "leadership wrangling", and was "increasingly weakening, contained and losing ground every day".
However, al Shabaab is highly mobile, a reason why Somalia aims to build an army made up of agile light infantry units.
"Our national security stabilization plan indicates up to 28,000 soldiers within three years," Fiqi said, putting the cost of raising such an army at about $160 million.
The minister is part of a Somali delegation that includes President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, that attended a conference on Somalia in London on Tuesday to drum up donor funding.
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Michael Roddy)