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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Puntland Government Strongly Condemns Terror Attack in Galkayo

Press Release
Government of Puntland State of Somalia
Garowe, Puntland
Thursday, April 30, 2009


President Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud (Farole) and the Government of Puntland State of Somalia strongly denounce and condemn the bomb attack at the center of the City of Galkayo on April, 29, 2009, killing one innocent civilian and one government intelligence officer.

The terrorist bomb targeted and killed the Puntland Intelligence Service (PIS) commander in Mudug region. Further, a female student who was an innocent civilian bystander was also killed and four other people injured by the explosion and subsequent gunfire.

The President and Government of Puntland State send sincere condolences to the families of the deceased and wounded persons perpetrated by cowards. This attack represents an example of the tactics employed by those who wish to hinder the development of peace and security in Puntland, and all of Somalia. Puntland security forces successfully apprehended the terrorist suspect and assure the public that the suspect will be tried in a court of law within the framework of the Puntland legal system.

Terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires a global solution through concerted effort and strategic counter-terrorism tactics. Puntland State government abhors all types of criminality, including terrorism and piracy, and reiterates its commitment to fight all forms of security threats.

U.S. Embassy Support for World Press Freedom Day

PRESS RELEASE

U.S. Embassy Support for World Press Freedom Day

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the U.S. embassy takes the opportunity to reiterate its support for the courageous journalists of Somalia. The United States is a strong partner with Somali journalists in the quest to realize an environment in which journalists can practice their trade without fear of harm or intimidation.

We have noted in several instances that a vibrant free press is going to be a vital part of the path to peace and reconciliation in Somalia. We will continue to advocate for all members of the Somali press who strive to carry out their work in the midst of an often difficult circumstance. We again commend those brave journalists who remain in Somalia and join all members of the media fraternity in marking World Press Freedom Day.



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Piracy cash not funding Kenya projects, says MP

A Somali MP has denied that money accrued from piracy off the East African coast is being used to buy property in Kenya.

Mr Ashad Awad Ashareh said, instead, the money that has seen value of property in places like Nairobi’s Eastleigh and Mombasa rise was from Somalis in the diaspora.

The MP told the Nation that Somalis in the diaspora remitt home more than Sh70 billion annually, part of which find its way to Kenya.

“It is not true that money accrued from piracy is being used to acquire property in Kenya,” Mr Ashareh said.

According to a research by United Nations Development Programme in Somalia, there are at least one million Somalis in the diaspora who remitt more than US$1 billion annually.

The money, the UNDP says, contributes a lot to the Somali economy, livelihoods, humanitarian assistance and recovery and reconstruction efforts.

The UNDP says about one million Somalis or 14 per cent of the population are in the diaspora including Horn of Africa and Yemen, Gulf States, Western Europe, US and Canada.

It is, however, the UK that has largest number of Somalis while Malaysia and Australia are new growth areas.

Kenya hosts about 220,000 registered Somali refugees, Ethiopia (17,000), Djibouti (7,000) and South Africa (8,000).

According to a US State Department report last year, about $100 million (about Sh8 billion) is laundered through Kenya every year from Somalia.

Last month, the Saturday Nation reported that the North Eastern provincial administration had launched investigations into the possibility that the $150 million (about Sh12 billion) Somali pirates reaped in the high seas last year may have found its way into the area, pushing up property values.

Property values in places like Eastleigh in Nairobi and Mombasa have also gone up tremendously causing fears that the pirates’ money could be finding its way into the country.

Mr Ashareh accused some foreign countries of illegally fishing in Somali waters and dumping toxic waste there.

It is a move by some Somalis to try and defend their territory from illegal fishing and dumping that resulted to piracy, he said.

The MP said piracy could only end if international community helped Somalia return to peace and stability so that it can establish a strong law enforcement agency.

“We need a strong navy to man our waters,” he said.

Tens of ships have been hijacked by Somali pirates in the recent past and only released after ransoms are paid.

Source: Daily Nation

SOMALIA: Safer water in Somaliland

The availability of water purification tablets, digging of shallow wells in rural areas as well as privatisation of water services have resulted in more people in Somalia's self-declared republic of Somaliland gaining access to clean water and proper sanitation, officials said.

At least 45-50 percent of the Somaliland population now has access to safe water, compared with 35 percent in 2000, according to Ali Sheikh Omar Qabil, director of environmental health in the Ministry of Health and Labour.

"Most of the urban centres such as Hargeisa [the capital], Borama, Berbera, and Gabiley have central water supply systems and chlorine is routinely mixed into the water provided," Qabil said.


Sheikh Ali Jawhar, director of the water department in the Ministry of Minerals and Water, said: "The installation of chlorination equipment units in water supply dams in the main urban centres and at shallow wells in remote areas is one of the factors that has increased water sanitation in the country."

However, Jawhar said the region had yet to meet international standards in terms of quantity, with the average safe water availability being 14l per person per day in the capital and 8l in rural areas. The international standard is 20l/person/day.

Water purification tablets are widely available across the region, supplied and sold by the NGO Population Services International (PSI).

Privatisation

In Borama region, the privatisation of the town's water agency, Shirkadda Adeega Bulshada Awdal, has been one the reason for improved access to water and sanitation.

"We have made major improvements in both water access and supply for the town," Abdirahman Mohamoud Muse, a board member, said. "We supply water to about 80,000-100,000 of the city inhabitants."

Muse said: "We have an agreement with the Somaliland authorities on profit sharing; for example, we get 20 percent of the benefit of the total investment while 3 percent is paid to the local government in taxes and we give some to the Ministry of Minerals and Water."

The privatisation followed a severe water shortage in the area. The project was funded by USAID through the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Before then, only 500 cubic metres was pumped for use in Borama region but the firm now pumps 1,700 cubic metres per day, Muse said.

Reaching more people

He said the number of houses that had installed water supply pipes had significantly increased since 2003.

"Only 250 households had installed the water pipes [in 2003] but now we have installed pipes in about 5,000 households and more than 2,000 households share [the water pipes] with their neighbours while the others get water from kiosk centres, which we consider to be clean water," Muse said. "Fewer than 1.2 percent of Borama residents do not receive the agency's water supply."

However, Muse expressed concern over the depletion of water sources in parts of the region, "especially in the main urban centres of Somaliland, Hargeisa and Borama".

He said this had forced the water ministry to conduct surveys to identify new water sources. Consequently, Muse added, the Borama water agency had dug a new well in Amoud, Borama region.

"The depletion [of the water sources] followed a dramatic increase in the urban population and the construction of modern buildings," Jawhar said.

"For example, when China installed a water system in Hargeisa and Borama, the density of the population and buildings was much smaller than what we have today; Hargeisa then had only 150,000 individuals but now its population is about 800,000 yet nothing has changed in its water supply system."

Despite the progress made in water provision and sanitation, Somaliland authorities remain concerned over services in parts of the republic, such as Burou, the second-largest city, which, Qabil said, lacked adequate water chlorination.

"This is why we consider Burou the most risky place in the country as it lacks a link to the central dam where water chlorination is done," Qabil said. "In fact, diarrhoea has broken out in recent years in the city several times, which we attribute to the lack of chlorination of the town water supply."

Source: IRIN

US hands pirates' bodies over to Somali officials

American naval forces handed Somali authorities the bodies of three suspected pirates on Thursday, officials said, after U.S. snipers shot the trio earlier this month during a standoff over an American hostage.

The sole surviving pirate suspect from the April 8 attack on the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama is in custody in the U.S. facing piracy charges.

Lt. Col. Mohamed Abdulle Mohamed, the chief of security in the country's northern Bossaso port, said regional authorities sent a small boat to collect the wooden coffins containing the bodies from a warship stationed around 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) off the coast.

"I hope they will hand the bodies over to their relatives," Mohamed said, but noted that none of the people at the port on Thursday when the bodies arrived back in Somalia had identified themselves as family members of the dead men.

"Maybe they will join the funeral procession," he said.

Mohamed said the Americans said they had been doing DNA tests on the bodies during the past few days.

A spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet declined to comment on possible DNA testing, but confirmed the bodies were transferred to Somali police.

"Their remains were initially transferred to the USS Boxer and have remained in U.S. Navy custody until a transfer to local Somali authorities could be arranged," said Lt. Stephanie Murdock.

The three men, along with the fourth suspect Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, dominated the world's television screens for days following their attack on the Alabama and the standoff over the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage.

Muse eventually surrendered to a nearby warship to seek treatment for a wound sustained during the attack, and now faces trial in New York. Navy SEAL sharpshooters killed his three companions after they pointed their guns at Phillips.

Source: The Associated Press

Terrorists filter into Africa

Foreign fighters are moving in, U.S. says. Lawless lands are ripe for al-Qaida, general warns.


Growing evidence indicates battle-hardened extremists are filtering out of safe havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and into eastern Africa, bringing sophisticated terrorist tactics that include suicide attacks.

The alarming shift, according to U.S. military and counterterrorism officials, is fueling concern that Somalia is increasingly on a path to become the next Afghanistan —- a sanctuary where al-Qaida-linked groups could train and plan attacks against the West.

So far, officials say the number of foreign fighters who have moved from southwest Asia to the Horn of Africa is small, perhaps two to three dozen.

But a similarly small cell of militant plotters was responsible for the devastating 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And the cluster of militants now believed to be operating in the region could pass on sophisticated attack techniques gleaned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

“There is a level of activity that is troubling, disturbing,” Gen. William “Kip” Ward, head of U.S. Africa Command, said. “When you have these vast spaces that are just not governed, it provides a haven … for training to occur.”

Ward said U.S. officials already are seeing extremist factions in eastern Africa sharing information and techniques.

Military and counterterrorism officials cautioned that the movements of the al-Qaida militants do not suggest they are abandoning the ungoverned Pakistan border region as a safe haven. Instead, the shift is viewed as an expansion of al-Qaida’s influence in a region already rife with home-grown militants.

Last month, Osama bin Laden made it clear in a newly released audiotape that al-Qaida has set its sights on Somalia, urging Somalis to overthrow their new moderate Islamist president and to support their jihadist “brothers” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestinian territories and Iraq.

In the past, officials said, suicide attacks tended to be frowned on by African Muslims, creating something of an impediment to al-Qaida’s efforts to sell that aspect of its terrorism tactics.

But on Oct. 29, 2008, suicide bombers killed more than 20 people in five attacks in Somalia, targeting a U.N. compound, the Ethiopian Consulate, the presidential palace in the autonomous Somaliland region and two intelligence facilities in Puntland.

The coordinated assaults, officials said, were a watershed moment, suggesting a new level of sophistication and training.

Ward said U.S. Africa Command is working to improve security in eastern Africa. But meanwhile, he said, the ties between the terror groups are continuing to grow.

“I think they’re all a threat,” Ward said of both the foreign and African militants. “Right now it’s clearly a threat that the Africans have, but in today’s global society that threat can be exported anywhere with relative ease.”

Source: AP

At former British prison, Somali pirates tell their side

Their exploits have turned the inky-blue waters of the Indian Ocean into a perilous gantlet for ships and an unlikely security challenge for world leaders. But behind the bare brick walls of a desolate former British colonial prison here, five jailed Somali pirates didn't seem very fearsome at all.

One looked to be in his late 40s, his brambly hair stained a deep henna orange, his milky eyes staring into the middle distance. A slightly younger man clutched a faded sarong to his matchstick waist and spoke in barely a whisper.

The leader of the pirate crew, 38-year-old Farah Ismail Eid, wore such a hungry look that a visiting government official, unsolicited, folded a pale $10 bill into his sandpaper palm.

That a few hundred men like these have wreaked so much havoc in the seas off of East Africa is a testament to the sheer power of guts and greed. It's also a stark illustration of the all-consuming anarchy ashore in Somalia, where, after 18 years of conflict, jobs are scarce, guns are plentiful, men will risk everything for a payday — and their government is too weak and corrupt to stop them.

The men behind bars, however, offered another explanation for piracy.

Their story is also rooted in greed — not of their brazen colleagues with the million-dollar ransoms, they say, but of foreign companies that they say have profited from Somalia's lawlessness by fishing illegally in their waters since the 1990s.

In a long interview with McClatchy at the jailhouse in Mandhera, an austere desert fortress in the autonomous northern region of Somaliland, where British forces held Italian POWs during World War II, Eid related what amounts to the pirates' creation myth, in which overfishing by European and Asian trawlers drove Somalia's coastal communities to ruin and forced local fishermen to fight for their livelihoods.

"Now the international community is shouting about piracy. But long before this, we were shouting to the world about our problems," said Eid, a bony-cheeked former lobsterman with a bushy goatee. "No one listened."

Of course, the pirates' journey from vigilante coast guard to firing automatic weapons at cruise ships — as one band did over the weekend — is a reminder that good intentions don't last long in desperate Somalia.

In 1991, Eid was scavenging for lobsters along the craggy shores of central Somalia, saving to start a fishing company, when the government and its security forces were swallowed up in a coup. The country's endless coastline — at nearly 2,000 miles, it's longer than the U.S. West Coast — suddenly became an unguarded supermarket of tuna, mackerel and other fish.

When huge foreign trawlers suddenly began appearing, the local fishermen who plied their trade with simple nets and small fiberglass boats were wiped out, Eid said.

"They fished everything — sharks, lobsters, eggs," he recalled. "They collided with our boats. They came with giant nets and swept everything out of the sea."

At the outset, fishermen in the ramshackle ports of Puntland, Somaliland's rowdy neighbor, re-branded themselves as "coast guards." The first hijackings that Eid remembered came in 1997, when pirates from the port of Hobyo seized a Chinese fishing vessel and then held a Kenyan ship for a $500,000 ransom.

"When I heard about this," Eid said, "I was happy."

Eid had sunk his savings into three boats. In 2005, with catches all too rare and a wife and two children to support, he traded his fishing equipment for a couple of Kalashnikov rifles and rocket launchers in a market in the wild-west port of Bossasso.

He and five other fishermen, swathed in camouflage, piled into a motorized skiff and set off from the village of Garacad. But their motor was too feeble to catch up to any of the ships they spotted, so after five sweltering days they returned to shore.

The next year Eid tried with a stronger engine, a German one imported from Dubai. This time, the novice pirates caught up to a cargo ship and came face to face with its European crew. But Eid's men couldn't prop their heavy metal ladder up against the freighter's hull quickly enough to board the ship. The vessel escaped unmolested.

Global Witness, a London-based group that investigates natural resource exploitation, agrees that vessels from countries such as France, Spain, Indonesia and South Korea gobbled up hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of fish from Somali waters without licenses.

However, experts say that the foreign fishing wasn't necessarily illegal because the Somali government, even before the coup, didn't delineate its territorial waters, as international maritime laws require.

"In the early to mid-1990s there was some fishing in those waters that, if Somalia had a government that was performing its job, would have demanded licensing fees for," said J. Peter Pham, a piracy expert at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. "But the Somalis never got around to declaring what was legal and illegal."

Somali officials don't argue with the pirates' version of events — only with their tactics.

"We know they have their grievances," said Abdillahi Mohamed Duale, the foreign minister of Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991. "But the problem of overfishing has always been there, in the Caribbean, Latin America and the Indian Ocean. It doesn't mean that you take the law into your own hands."

Entering this week, there'd been 93 hijack attempts off the coast in 2009, according to the International Maritime Bureau in London — 17 fewer than in all of last year. After a tense, five-day standoff this month ended with U.S. Navy sharpshooters killing three pirates and rescuing an American ship captain they'd taken hostage, countries pledged $213 million to bolster the Somali security forces.

In Puntland, the pirates have a comfortably chaotic haven. Markets carry everything from automatic weapons to spare batteries for satellite phones, standard equipment for any seagoing bandit. A regional government claims to rule the area, but many suspect that the president, Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, is on the take from pirates, which Farole denies.

According to Eid and others, some officers from Somalia's erstwhile marine corps and coast guard, which patrolled the shores skillfully until the civil war, are training pirate groups in navigation and other seafaring techniques.

"If 20 pirate groups go to sea, one will succeed" in capturing a ship, Eid said. "Nineteen will fail, but they'll keep trying. They have all the equipment and support they need."

Somaliland says it's cracking down on pirates. Four groups of pirates — 26 men in all — have been arrested, and three of the groups are serving 15- to 20-year prison sentences.

Last August, Somaliland authorities raided a seaside guesthouse and captured Eid, who'd moved there and was posing as a mechanic. He and four others were charged with weapons possession and plotting a hijacking, and swiftly sentenced to 15-year prison terms despite having never carried out an attack.

"We are afraid this piracy could spread to Somaliland," said Youssef Essa, Somaliland's vice minister of justice. "That's why we have to give harsh sentences."

Nevertheless, Essa, a former high school teacher, seemed impressed with Eid's story. After listening for over an hour, he rose to shake the younger man's hand and handed him $10. Afterward, he and the silver-haired warden agreed that Eid probably would spend the money on khat, a narcotic leaf that Somali men chew to get high.


Source: McClatchy Newspapers

Somalia Stability Challenged by Complex and Shifting Politics

A pledge by donor nations last week to provide more than $200 million to enhance security in Somalia is being hailed by some, criticized by others. Analysts in the United States say the international community is narrowly focused on trying to stabilize Somalia without fully considering its complex and shifting politics.

At the donor conference last week in Brussels, Somalia received a pledge of more than $213 million from the international community, which has been growing increasingly concerned about the rampant piracy off the Somali coast and the threat of radical Islamists turning Somalia into a terrorist haven.

More than $30 million is earmarked to help the country's transitional government build up its security institutions, including a 6,000-member National Security Force in the capital Mogadishu and 10,000 policemen.

More than $135 million is expected to be given to the African Union to strengthen AMISOM, its peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Earlier this week, the U.N. Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, released a statement, praising the international community for its generous contribution. The envoy called for the funds to be made available as soon as possible and to ensure the money is spent wisely and responsibly.

But Policy Advisor Colin Thomas-Jensen of the Enough Project in Washington says the decision to allocate much of the money to the African Union is likely to cause additional problems for Somalia's transitional federal government. A popular Islamist leads the government, but it is still violently opposed by Islamist hard-liners and homegrown radical groups.

"AMISOM, while providing some useful services on the ground in support of the TFG, I question whether AMISOM is really the vehicle through which we, as donors, want to be channeling that much money into Somalia," said Colin Thomas-Jensen. "Somalia is a very complicated operating environment and AMISOM is a political issue. It is the issue around which the opposition is going to frame their argument that Sheik Sharif's government is not the right leadership for Somalia."

President Sharif is a moderate Islamist leader who fled to Eritrea after Ethiopian troops, with U.S. support, ousted the country's Islamic Courts Union from power in late 2006.

In the Eritrean capital Asmara, Sheik Sharif and his colleague hard-line cleric Hassan Dahir Aweys, formed an opposition group in support of insurgents fighting the Ethiopian occupation. AMISOM troops began arriving in Mogadishu in March, 2007 to help the newly-installed Ethiopia-backed government guard key government buildings and installations from insurgent attacks.

Last June, Sheik Sharif broke ranks with Aweys to sign a peace deal with the government.

The U.N.-sponsored peace agreement signed in Djibouti paved the way for Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia, the expansion of the parliament to include Islamists, and the election of Sheik Sharif as president of a new unity government.

President Sharif and his government gave their approval for AMISOM troops to stay in Somalia to train Somali security forces. But the approval angered nationalists in the Asmara group led by Aweys. Many Islamist clerics who had backed Sheik Sharif in his bid to become president were also angry because they, too, had urged the withdrawal of peacekeepers.

The Asmara group formed an alliance with three other groups to oppose President Sharif's government.

The alliance, called Hisbul Islam, split shortly after it formed when one faction decided to support the government. But the hard-liners in Hisbul Islam maintain an alliance with al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group linked to al-Qaida, which currently controls large areas of southern and central Somalia.

Last week, Aweys returned to Mogadishu, raising hopes he had returned to support or join the government. But since his return, Aweys has repeatedly criticized the government and become even more vocal in his call for the withdrawal of AMISOM.

Somali analyst Michael Weinstein says Aweys appears determined to use the presence of foreign peacekeepers as a pretext for launching a broader political challenge against President Sharif.

"The actor who is working to change the landscape is Sheik Hassan," said Michael Weinstein. "Instead of wanting to join reconciliation [efforts], I think he sees the weakness of the TFG and he sees that he has to step in to try to knit together the armed opposition as a political wing."

Analyst J. Peter Pham says President Sharif needs to quickly shore up support for his government among influential groups such as clerics, clan elders, civil society leaders, and businessmen. But he says it is not clear if the Somali leader will have enough time or money to counter the challenges ahead.

"Sheik Hassan, al-Shabab and others are just waiting to see if this shaky transitional federal government actually makes it past a few months," said Pham. "We know from various sources that one of the things that Sheik Sharif has done is [he] has been going around promising that he would be distributing resources to those who support him. It is yet unclear whether he will actually have any resources to distribute himself or whether the international community will be channeling the resources mainly through the African Union. So, if Sheik Sharif does not have his "walking around money," he might have difficulty maintaining the loyalties of those who support him."

Policy advisor Colin Thomas-Jensen says President Sharif will also likely have a tough time trying to meet the expectations of the donor nations while trying to maintain popularity and credibility among the Somali people.

"It is a very difficult tightrope that Sheik Sharif is walking because on the one hand, he needs support and he needs to expand his influence and control and broaden the umbrella under which his government is operating," he said. "But on the other hand, he cannot rely too heavily on external actors because that will sink him with many Somalis, who see external intervention as the enemy."

In his statement to the media, U.N. envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah urged Hassan Dahir Aweys and other government opponents to be, in the envoy's words, "patriotic enough to move forward and not take their country hostage to their personal ambitions."

Source: VOA

Filipino Seafarers Top Victims of Somali Pirates

At least 80 Filipino seafarers are being held hostage by Somali pirates - the highest number from any nation. The Philippine government has banned ships carrying Filipino crew members from sailing near Somalia. But as Heda Bayron reports from Manila, piracy is unlikely to stop Filipino sailors from plying the treacherous route.

Until last week, Somali pirates were holding Catherine Boretta's husband. She has been distraught about his condition, after he had been reported to have been injured by a stray bullet. The chemical tanker the Philippine citizen was working on, the MT Stolt Strength, was captured in November on its way to India from Senegal.

But after negotiations between the pirates and the ship's owners, reportedly with ransom paid, Rodell Boretta and his shipmates are returning home.

But at least 80 Filipino seafarers are still in the hands of Somali pirates. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has pressed for more international efforts to secure their release and ordered staffing agencies to ensure that ships carrying Filipino seafarers stay at least 200 nautical miles off Somalia, a country which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

But Nelson Ramirez, spokesman of the Union of Filipino Seafarers, calls the ban absurd.


"It's just for show. They didn't even study the map," said Ramirez. "They didn't ask the labor unions, the seafarers, how is it possible. They sail about 200 miles off Somalia's coast; the pirates are going about 350 miles off Somalia's coast. If someone would violate that one, who are they going to penalize? Are they going to penalize the seamen? The ship owner? Are they going to penalize the manning agency?"

Ramirez says the policy is a knee-jerk reaction by the government, which has been criticized for doing little to help free the Filipino hostages. He says the government has left it to the ship owners to negotiate for the seafarers' freedom.

Cabinet Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita acknowledged government's role has been limited. He says negotiations between the pirates and the ship owners have been more successful.

"Our experience has been that we have not had any casualty from among those kidnapped by the Somali pirates," said Ermita. "So far there have been a lot of successes in the negotiations by the manning agencies and the ship owners."

The International Maritime Bureau says pirate attacks off the Somali coast increased to 102 from 53 in the first three months of this year.

Navy ships from the United States, France, China and other countries have been patrolling international waters off Somalia to ensure the safe passage of ships. Earlier this month, U.S. Navy SEALS freed an American captain and arrested a Somali pirate now under federal custody in the United States.

Ermita says the Philippines will cooperate with any United Nations action on piracy. But the Philippine navy has limited capability to help in the patrols - it is already hard pressed to patrol the country's 7,100 islands.

"At the moment there are no planned or contemplated actions as strong as being done by other countries such as what the French and the U.S. governments have done to rescue their citizens involved in hijackings in Somalia," added Ermita. "We will just continue with the present action of actively looking at the plight of our Filipino seamen and we hope that in our little way we would be able to contribute to hastening the recovery of the seamen."

Ramirez of the Union of Filipino Seafarers says piracy is unlikely to stop Filipinos from working on ships sailing these treacherous waters.

"I have talked to the seafarers themselves who have been hostaged [held hostage] and I told them will you be sailing again? And they said yes, they will. In the near future, there will be more naval vessels that will be protecting them," said Ramirez.

Moreover, seafarers earn more overseas than in the Philippines and there are few jobs at home for the estimated half a million registered Filipino sailors.

For the MT Stolt Strength, its staffing agency says it is willing to keep hiring Filipino crews, as long as they choose to continue sailing.

Source: VOA

Filipino Seafarers Top Victims of Somali Pirates

At least 80 Filipino seafarers are being held hostage by Somali pirates - the highest number from any nation. The Philippine government has banned ships carrying Filipino crew members from sailing near Somalia. But as Heda Bayron reports from Manila, piracy is unlikely to stop Filipino sailors from plying the treacherous route.

Until last week, Somali pirates were holding Catherine Boretta's husband. She has been distraught about his condition, after he had been reported to have been injured by a stray bullet. The chemical tanker the Philippine citizen was working on, the MT Stolt Strength, was captured in November on its way to India from Senegal.

But after negotiations between the pirates and the ship's owners, reportedly with ransom paid, Rodell Boretta and his shipmates are returning home.

But at least 80 Filipino seafarers are still in the hands of Somali pirates. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has pressed for more international efforts to secure their release and ordered staffing agencies to ensure that ships carrying Filipino seafarers stay at least 200 nautical miles off Somalia, a country which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

But Nelson Ramirez, spokesman of the Union of Filipino Seafarers, calls the ban absurd.

"It's just for show. They didn't even study the map," said Ramirez. "They didn't ask the labor unions, the seafarers, how is it possible. They sail about 200 miles off Somalia's coast; the pirates are going about 350 miles off Somalia's coast. If someone would violate that one, who are they going to penalize? Are they going to penalize the seamen? The ship owner? Are they going to penalize the manning agency?"

Ramirez says the policy is a knee-jerk reaction by the government, which has been criticized for doing little to help free the Filipino hostages. He says the government has left it to the ship owners to negotiate for the seafarers' freedom.

Cabinet Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita acknowledged government's role has been limited. He says negotiations between the pirates and the ship owners have been more successful.

"Our experience has been that we have not had any casualty from among those kidnapped by the Somali pirates," said Ermita. "So far there have been a lot of successes in the negotiations by the manning agencies and the ship owners."

The International Maritime Bureau says pirate attacks off the Somali coast increased to 102 from 53 in the first three months of this year.

Navy ships from the United States, France, China and other countries have been patrolling international waters off Somalia to ensure the safe passage of ships. Earlier this month, U.S. Navy SEALS freed an American captain and arrested a Somali pirate now under federal custody in the United States.

Ermita says the Philippines will cooperate with any United Nations action on piracy. But the Philippine navy has limited capability to help in the patrols - it is already hard pressed to patrol the country's 7,100 islands.

"At the moment there are no planned or contemplated actions as strong as being done by other countries such as what the French and the U.S. governments have done to rescue their citizens involved in hijackings in Somalia," added Ermita. "We will just continue with the present action of actively looking at the plight of our Filipino seamen and we hope that in our little way we would be able to contribute to hastening the recovery of the seamen."

Ramirez of the Union of Filipino Seafarers says piracy is unlikely to stop Filipinos from working on ships sailing these treacherous waters.

"I have talked to the seafarers themselves who have been hostaged [held hostage] and I told them will you be sailing again? And they said yes, they will. In the near future, there will be more naval vessels that will be protecting them," said Ramirez.

Moreover, seafarers earn more overseas than in the Philippines and there are few jobs at home for the estimated half a million registered Filipino sailors.

For the MT Stolt Strength, its staffing agency says it is willing to keep hiring Filipino crews, as long as they choose to continue sailing.

Source: VOA

Italian cargo ship escapes Somali pirate attack

An Italian cargo ship, the Jolly Smeraldo, escaped being hijacked by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa on Wednesday, Italy's foreign ministry and company officials said.

The pirates attacked some 300 nautical miles southeast of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as the Italian-owned container vessel travelled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

"They fired some shots but after about 10 or 15 minutes they gave up and went away," said Andrea Gais, managing director of the company Messina, which owns the vessel.

On Sunday, an Italian cruise ship used guns and a firehose to beat off a pirate assault. An Italian tug boat with 16 crew onboard, is still being held in northern Somalia after it was seized on April 11.

NATO said last week it was extending a month-long anti-piracy mission by four of its ships in the Gulf of Aden until June 20, because of the worsening impact of piracy on shipping in the region.

Attacks have worsened despite the presence of naval forces from more than a dozen states, including task forces under NATO, EU and U.S. command. Restoring peace to war-torn Somalia is generally seen as the only long-term solution to the problem. (Reporting by Roberto Landucci; Editing by Matthew Jones).

Source: Reuters

Seychelles arrests 9 suspected pirates

The Seychelles Coast Guard has captured nine suspected Somali pirates during a patrol by European and Indian naval forces, officials have confirmed today. The men are suspected of attacking an Italian cruise ship, the MSC Melody, on 26 April, in an area about 200 nautical miles north from the main islands of the Seychelles archipelago.

The officials said a Spanish navy boat intercepted a small boat carrying nine suspected Somali pirates, saying with the help of French, Indian and Seychelles naval forces the boat was followed and successfully seized on Monday afternoon.

The officials said the ship was attacked on Sunday, then it simultaneously sent out an SOS, leading to the international response.

President James Michel said international cooperation was the key to fighting piracy at sea and that there was a need for continued vigilance in the area as it has been the pirates strongest posts.

President Michel said although the attack took place far away from the Seychelles islands and posed no danger to its citizens, it is imperative that the territorial waters of the Seychelles remain safe for all leisure, fishing and commercial vessels passing through the area.

Incident Operations Officer of the Seychelles Coast Guard, Captain Jean Attala said that the news of the attack on the luxury cruise liner, MSC Melody, was received in the early hours of 26 April, saying three aircrafts were then deployed, a French surveillance plane Falcon, a Spanish helicopter from the warship Numancia, and a Seychelles Coast Guard aircraft, and started a search for the pirate boat, given precise coordiantes by the MSC Melody during its attack.

“The Seychelles plane sighted the pirates, and then each plane took turn in marking the target by staying in the air, until the other unit arrived on scene to relieve the other,” said Captain Attala.

The men are now in detention in a prison cell of the Seychelles police force, and are expected to be charged and tried in the Seychelles.

Source: Afro News

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Somalia: Blast kills three people in central town

At least three people have been killed and unknown number of others were injured after explosion targeted a vehicle of Puntland Intelligent Service (PIS) in Galka’ayo town in Mudug region in Somalia, witnesses said on Wednesday.

Residents said the vehicle was destroyed by the blast which seemed to be a remote controlled one.

The police of Puntland arrested about ten people in the town after the explosion and still investigating the incident.

The situation in north Galka’yo is reportedly tense and people are very worried about the new explosion in the town.

No group has claimed the responsibility of the attack yet. Such explosions are new to the town.

amsomalia@mareeg.com

Somalia: Save the Children official attacked in central town, three wounded

Unknown gunmen have attacked hand grenades to the house of an official working for Save The Children in Beledweyn town in central Somalia, witnesses said on Wednesday.

Ali Bile, the attacked official was at his house at the time of the bomb attack. Three people including his wife and his daughter were injured in the bomb attack.

It is not known why the official targeted, but there have been attacks and abductions against local and foreign aid workers in Somalia for years.

The administration of Beledweyn town said they would investigate the incident.

Two foreign aid workers kidnapped by Somali gunmen two weeks ago were released on Tuesday without ransom payment after local elders held negotiations with captors.

amsomalia@mareeg.com

Somali piracy costs Suez Canal business

With more ships opting to go around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid Somali pirates rather than pass through the Suez Canal and enter the world's most dangerous waterway, Egyptian officials are concerned about a steep drop in revenue and its effect on the nation's economy.

The Suez Canal has long served as a reliable source of foreign currency, and falling revenue will affect not only Egypt's balance of payments but also a rising budget deficit. After tourism and remittances from Egyptians living abroad, the canal is Egypt's main source of foreign currency. In the last fiscal year, the canal earned more than $5.1 billion. But revenue is expected to decline to $4.5 billion in the current fiscal year and $3.6 billion in the next, according to EFG-Hermes, a Cairo regional investment bank.

Taking the long way
The threat of Somali pirates has prompted some of the approximately 20,000 vessels that use the Suez Canal annually to go around the Cape of Good Hope rather than enter the Gulf of Aden, says Neil Davidson, director of ports at London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants.

Denmark's Maersk Line, one of the world's largest shipping lines, is rerouting some of its ships for security concerns, says Finn Brodersen, the company's senior director of technical organization.

"If they cannot be protected by military resources in the area, then these vessels have to go south of Africa," Brodersen said.

Somali pirate attacks increased tenfold in the first three months of 2009 in contrast to the same period in 2008, according to the Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog group. Pirates typically attack unarmed vessels in small skiffs with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. If unable to escape, the ship is taken over by the pirates, sailed to the Somali coast and held for ransom. Last year, pirates received some $80 million for the release of ships, according to several press reports.

As of April 20, Somali pirates were holding 15 ships with some 250 crew members, according to the bureau. The bureau says pirates have already seized 23 ships in 91 attacks - 59 in the Gulf of Aden and 32 off the east coast of Africa in 2009.

Somali piracy is hardly a new phenomenon. After the collapse of the nation's central government in 1991, foreign ships arrived in Somali waters, illegally dumping hazardous materials and fishing for tuna, shrimp and lobster. This spurred some destitute Somali fishermen to form the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia to dissuade dumpers and fishermen and sometimes elicit taxes from both. By the beginning of the decade, many fishermen had turned to the more lucrative business of piracy.

The danger to merchant ships has led the United States, China and Japan, among other countries, to send naval vessels to help protect ships against piracy. NATO established the Combined Task Force 151, while the European Union created a naval mission to protect World Food Program shipments to Somalia, safeguard vulnerable ships, and disrupt and deter piracy.

"The EU's main effort is in the Gulf of Aden through which about 20 percent of all global sea traffic travels and where ships are at their most vulnerable," said British Royal Naval Reserve Cmdr. Alistair Worsley, an EU spokesman.

Just last week, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military officer in charge of the African coastline, told Congress that shipping companies should stop regarding piracy as just a business problem and consider hiring armed guards to protect their ships.

To be sure, piracy is just one factor affecting Suez Canal revenue.

Trade falling
Falling global trade is a major influence. And high transit tolls are "one of the serious costs of doing the passage, whichever way you go," said Peter Hinchliffe, marine director of the International Chamber of Shipping. The average toll to cross the canal is about $250,000 per ship.

In a recent news release, the Grand Alliance, a container consortium of four large shipping lines, announced in February that it is rerouting some of its vessels sailing east between Europe and Asia around the Cape of Good Hope, citing "high Suez Canal toll fees, which are difficult for carriers to afford in the current economic environment."

And falling fuel prices have increased the allure of sailing around the Cape. "If fuel costs jump up again, then clearly Suez becomes more competitive once again," Davidson predicted.

But shipping companies also face hefty piracy insurance fees for sailing through the Gulf of Aden - an average $20,000 per ship, according to Robert Davies, kidnap and ransom underwriter at Hiscox, a Bermuda company specializing in risk insurance.

Perhaps with these factors in mind, Suez Canal Authority Chairman Ahmed Ali Fadel has said Egypt will not increase canal tolls in 2009. Instead, the authority will continue to offer rebates to ships on long hauls on a case-by-case basis. Canal officials declined to be interviewed for this article.

Meanwhile, an official of the Asian Shipowners Forum, whose members make up about half of the world's merchant fleet, recently said that Somali pirates will launch more sophisticated and better-armed attacks this year on vessels in the Gulf of Aden. Such predictions have Egyptian officials nervous that canal revenue could fall even further. "It's something they are concerned about," said Simon Kitchen, an economist at EFG-Hermes.


Suez Canal history
The Suez Canal is the major transit point for ships sailing between Europe and Asia without having to navigate around Africa. The 119-mile-long canal runs from the town of Suez in the south to Port Said in the north. It is owned by the state Suez Canal Authority.

It took 11 years and 30,000 workers to build the canal, which opened in 1869. French engineers under the auspices of French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps oversaw its construction.

In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the waterway, closing the Straits of Tiran to stop Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba. His action provoked the Suez Crisis, in which the United Kingdom, France and Israel briefly took control over the canal.

Today, passage through Suez takes between 11 and 16 hours, and the average toll is $250,000 per ship.


Source: the San Francisco Chronicle

Swine flu: Fears grow Virus spreads around the world as pandemic

More than 20 countries, as the virus spreads around the world and health experts warn that a pandemic is increasingly likely.

The first British sufferers of the condition were named today as Iain and Dawn Askham, a newly married couple from Falkirk, central Scotland who returned from honeymoon in Mexico last week.

Their conditions are said to be improving, but doctors are monitoring possible new cases in Wiltshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Wales. Around four in ten Britons will be infected if swine flu outbreak bceomes a pandemic, health experts said.

The potentially-deadly virus has now been confirmed in seven countries, although only in Mexico where the outbreak originated has the condition proved fatal. There, more than 150 deaths are thought to have been caused by swine flu.

The United States has announced 44 mild infections, while three people have the virus in New Zealand and six in Canada. There have been two confirmed cases in Spain and one in Israel, and fiften other countries have said they are investigating possible infections.Six people were being tested in Ireland.

The Foreign Office today revised its travel advice to Mexico to warn against all but essential journeys, prompting Britain's two biggest holiday operators to cancel their flights to the country for the next week.

Travel giant TUI, which owns Thomson and First Choice holidays, said it was suspending its services to the resort of Cancun until May 8. The firm's 2,500 holidaymakers already in the country will be brought home on scheduled flights.

Thomas Cook has cancelled all Thomas Cook and Airtours holidays to Mexico for the next seven days, resulting in the cancellation of five flights from Manchester and Gatwick. Any of its 3,000 customers who want to return early are being helped to book flights on other airlines, a spokeswoman said.

The potentially-deadly virus has now been confirmed in seven countries, although only in Mexico where the outbreak originated has the condition proved fatal. There, more than 150 deaths are thought to have been caused by swine flu.

The United States has announced 44 mild infections, while three people have the virus in New Zealand and six in Canada. There have been two confirmed cases in Spain and one in Israel, and fiften other countries have said they are investigating possible infections.Six people were being tested in Ireland.

The Foreign Office today revised its travel advice to Mexico to warn against all but essential journeys, prompting Britain's two biggest holiday operators to cancel their flights to the country for the next week.

Travel giant TUI, which owns Thomson and First Choice holidays, said it was suspending its services to the resort of Cancun until May 8. The firm's 2,500 holidaymakers already in the country will be brought home on scheduled flights.

Thomas Cook has cancelled all Thomas Cook and Airtours holidays to Mexico for the next seven days, resulting in the cancellation of five flights from Manchester and Gatwick. Any of its 3,000 customers who want to return early are being helped to book flights on other airlines, a spokeswoman said.

World Health Organisation (WHO) experts are warning that the swine flu virus spreading around the world now cannot be contained, and could infect 40 per cent of the British population in the next six months if it becomes a pandemic.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, London said that the virus would likely return later in the year even if it died away in the next few weeks. "It is almost certain that... we will get a seasonal epidemic in the autumn," he said.

The WHO has raised its swine flu alert level to phase four on a scale that goes up to six, meaning the virus is now being passed between humans. The organisation's assistant-general Keiji Fukuda said this represented a "significant step towards pandemic influenza", although a pandemic was not yet inevitable.

"With the virus being widespread... closing borders or restricting travel really has very little effects in stopping the movement of this virus," he said.

NHS officials said that the virus may have spread to Wiltshire, with seven people suffering from flu-like symptoms currently undergoing tests to find out if they have the potentially lethal illness. Results were expected later today.

A "handful" of cases are also being investigated in Wales. Tony Jewell, the country's chief medical officer, said: "We should expect that there will be some confirmed cases in Wales at some point." Reported cases are also being monitored in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

More than 1,300 people called NHS Direct yesterday with swine flu-related compaints, 238 of whom were referred to their GP for treatment. Tthe number of peole taking the service's online cold and flu self-assessment test has nearly tripled, a spokeswoman said.

Relatives of the Mr and Mrs Askham say they are responding well to treatment in isolation, but 22 people who they came into contact with since landing back in the country are being kept under observation. Seven have shown mild flu-like symptoms

It is understood that Mr Askham, 27, first began to show symptoms last Thursday, on a night out with friends.

His wife also began to feel ill and they were admitted to the infectious diseases unit of Monklands Hospital in Airdrie on Saturday.

Mrs Askham is a healthcare assistant at Boots in Falkirk and her husband, a keen amateur footballer, is an information analyst for the utility company Scottish Power.

The couple were married at the Three Kings function suite in Falkirk three weeks ago. The Scottish Executive said they did not travel in the areas of Mexico most affected by swine flu.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish health minister, said the couple were both doing well and were not particularly ill.

In the couple's home town of Polmont, near Falkirk, neighbours spoke of their shock.

Rachel Anderson, who lives across the road, said: "They were in Mexico for their honeymoon. On Saturday one of the neighbours noticed a paramedic on the street and they have not seen the couple since.

"It is a shame for them and I feel for their family. They will be very worried."

Britons who have pre-booked holidays to Mexico have been advised to check their insurance policies to see if they can claim the money back, although Thomas Cook and TUI have promised to do all they can to arrange alternative trips.

Stuart and Kelly Goddard, 25 and 24, from Coventry, were due to fly out this morning from Manchester Airport to Cancun for their honeymoon before finding out that their flight had been cancelled.

"We're absolutely gutted. We were married on Saturday and have been planning this for a year-and-a-half," Mr Goddard said.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today that the Government would take "all the action necessary" to prevent the spread of swine flu.

Speaking in the Polish capital, Warsaw, the Prime Minister insisted that Britain was well-prepared to deal with a major outbreak.

"We have been preparing for this kind of scenario for many years. Britain is among the best prepared countries in the world," he told a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

"We, together with the World Health Organisation and our partners in Europe and internationally, will continue to take all the urgent action that is necessary to halt the spread of this virus."

A pandemic is declared at level six. Since the alerts were introduced in 2005 it has never been higher than level three.

He said containing the disease was not feasible as it had already spread around the world.

Instead he said governments should concentrate on mitigation measures - giving people information on how to avoid catching the illness and being prepared to treat people who fall ill.

He also said there was no need to restrict travel between countries although anyone who is already ill should consult their doctor and stay at home, adding that closing borders would "cause a great deal of disruption for countries."

Fears were growing that the virus could cause a flu pandemic as a series of countries confirmed cases. Officials in Mexico – the centre of the outbreak – said there were 1,455 probable cases and 152 confirmed deaths.

In the Government's pandemic plan the worst case scenario suggests that if half the population contracted pandemic flu there could be around 709,000 deaths. Schools, sports events and concerts could be shut down to limit the spread of the illness.

Doctors who come into contact with suspected cases should wear face masks, gloves and aprons, under protocols issued by the Health Protection Agency. The WHO said the disease had ''pandemic potential'' but added that a pandemic was not "inevitable". Source telegraph

Anyone who feels unwell and suspects they have flu is advised to visit the NHS Direct website at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk or call them for advice on 0845 46 47.


Source: Mareeg blog

Police praise Somali community over quick arrests in latest homicide

City police praised the Somali community for providing tips that led to two arrests in connection with the slaying of a 20-year-old man found dead in Hermitage Park.

“I want to thank members within the Somali community for coming forward and providing us with valuable information in relation to this homicide,” said Deputy Chief David Korol this afternoon at police headquarters.

Map: Homicides, 2009

“I also want to thank the leaders within the Somali community for encouraging the people within their community to participate with police to help stop the violence.”

The victim has been identified as 20-year-old Mohamed Farah Khalif.

Abdikadir Mohamed Abdow, 22, and Mohamed Abdilla Awaleh, 36, both of Edmonton, face one count each of first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, as well as numerous weapons-related charges. The pair appeared in court yesterday morning.

Khalif’s body was discovered in the northeast park at about 5:30 a.m. Sunday. Police were brought to the scene acting on a information from within the Somali community. Police initially treated it as a suspicious death, but following further investigations, it was deemed a homicide, the city’s 10th of the year.

An autopsy was scheduled for this morning.

The deceased and the two suspects are known to each other, but Staff Sgt. Bill Spinks would not say how. He also declined to comment on whether this case links to past homicide cases, in which four Somali men were killed.

“We look at all our homicides throughout the year and have our analysts and detectives review all cases on a continuous basis and try to see if the crimes link together,” Spinks said.

Mohamed Abdi, communications coordinator for the Somali-Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton, expressed sadness at the recent slaying.

“We have come to know that Somali individuals are involved in the tragic situation... and we are very sorry as it is a big shock to our Edmonton Somali community,” Abdi said.

This past weekend’s friendly soccer match between members of the Edmonton police and the Somali community helped bridge the gap between the two groups, which will continue encourage the two groups to work together “and help minimize problems by misguided elements in the community,” he added.

In the recent rash of homicides – four in the past week – Korol stressed that all cases are unrelated and all have been solved at this point, with charges laid or pending with the exception of the case in which the suspect took his life.

Source: Edmontonsun

Kenya might be at risk after prosecuting Somali pirates

The hurried manner in which the international community has entered into agreements with Kenya on prosecution of suspected Somali pirates is raising more questions than answers.

In January, the US signed a pact with the government, while in March the European Union followed suit.

In a bid to secure the Indian Ocean waters, Kenya recently signed a protocol for an international code of conduct in Djibouti, aimed at facilitating arrest, investigation and prosecution of suspected pirates.

But it is the arrest and release of piracy suspects by NATO forces two weeks ago, who cited lack of legal power to detain them, that has raised questions over the legal basis on which the suspects are being tried in Kenya.

Now Mr Francis Kadima, a lawyer based in Mombasa, has warned that the trial of pirates in Kenya is illegal, and might have far reaching consequences.

The EU agreement was signed hastily when a Germany frigate arrested seven pirates who were handed over to the Kenyan authorities two days after the deal was signed.

“These agreements were supposed to be discussed in Parliament before they became enforceable, because the trials have serious repercussions,” says Mr Kadima.

“Kenya is owned by Kenyans and Parliament must know the content of these agreements so that they can be ratified and domesticated based on their benefits to the country. Nobody knows on what basis these agreements were signed,” he added.

He says Kenya has had problems with the Somali community, and with some pockets in their population linked to terrorism, trials in Kenya may make a strong appeal for another act of terror. “We are staying with Somalis amidst ourselves and some of the trials affect their relatives. What would happen if they decide to exact revenge?” Kadima asked.

Apparently, he argues, the Government has remained mute on the benefits accruing from these high risk trials.

Kenya, the lawyer says, has a weak legal system in regard to piracy, since the problem only took a dramatic turn recently and the Government has not put in place an adequate legal framework to deal with the problem.

But there is a provision in the Kenyan constitution which allows trial for international sea crimes.

The section under which suspected pirates are charged in the country is contained in section 69 (1) as read with section 69 (3) of the Penal Code. However, it is not specific on whether the suspects should be arrested by Kenyan authorities or whether the suspects must have committed the crime against Kenyans.

“Besides, the country’s Judiciary does not have enough experience to expeditiously deal with the issues of piracy,” Mr Kadima says.

Faced with the escalation of the crime in the Indian Ocean, the world community responded by sending war ships in the area. So far there are 43 suspects facing piracy charges in courts in Mombasa, while 10 of them are serving a seven-year jail term at the Shimo La Tewa Prison.

Eleven more are expected on Wednesday or Thursday after being captured by a Spanish ship. These will bring the number of pirates in Kenyan custody to 64. Those facing charges have since appealed against the sentence handed to them by a magistrate’s court in 2006.

The handing over of the suspects has attracted international attention, with major television stations from Europe and America converging on Mombasa to cover the trials.

And the court proceedings have also been characterised by extraordinary requests, where for instance during a hearing last week, a defence lawyer made an application to have the court visit the scene of crime in the high seas to establish the exact location the alleged piracy took place, which was denied.

The only law that is elaborate on maritime issues, and which can give Kenya enough room to deal with the problem is the Merchant Shipping Bill 2009, which was passed by Parliament in February, but is yet to be assented to by the President, Mr Kadima says.
In the case of the seven suspects who were released without charges, NATO commander Alexandre Fernandes was quoted by Reuters as saying that the forces did not have a detaining policy.

“The warship must follow its national law. They can only arrest if the pirates are from the Netherlands, the victims are from Netherlands, or if they are in Netherlands’ waters,” he said, sentiments that Mr Kadima echoes.

Says he: “The vessels for which pirates are accused of attacking were not seized in Kenya territorial waters, neither are the crew Kenyan nor the vessel and the cargo belong to Kenya.” He adds that the country does not have any interest in handling these cases. “In fact they are just overburdening our courts and judicial system which has a huge backlog of cases.”

Insurance premiums

Increased piracy in the Indian Ocean has resulted in insurance premiums shooting up and some shipping lines avoiding the Gulf of Aden for the longer and more expensive Cape of Good Hope route.

However, if the root cause of piracy is not addressed, it will be difficult to eradicate it, according to Mr Andrew Mwangura, East Africa Seafarers Assistance Programme coordinator.

When Somalia plunged into a civil war in the early 1990s, trawlers from countries including South Korea and Japan took advantage of the lawlessness and plundered marine resources, while others dumped nuclear waste within Somali waters.

Young men ganged up to protect their resources, but graduated into pirates. The millions of dollars they get in ransom payments trickles down to the villages to take care of poverty-stricken people.

“Piracy comes to the fore only when ships belonging to powerful nations are hijacked,” says Mr Mwangura.

“What the world should know is that the men arrested for being suspects in piracy are not the pirates. Pirates are living comfortably out of Somalia and those men are just foot soldiers. So long as poverty, insecurity and lawlessness persist, we are not solving the problem,” he adds.

During a conference in Brussels last week, donors agreed to spend over $250 million (Sh20 billion) to support security systems in the country.

At the same time, French Ambassador Elisabeth Barbier said the UN was pursuing other options including establishing special piracy courts.

Source: Daily Nation

Somali Jihad threatening to cross the border into Kenya

A major foreign policy development is challenging the new US administration; ironically from a region where Obama has strong familial, political and ethnic ties. As the Washington Post and other news sources have been reporting, the radical Islamic group Al-Shabab is now tightening control over all of southern Somalia, eliminating the last remaining strongholds of government forces. But the group, is also threatening to expand its Jihad throughout Northeastern Africa, most especially into neighboring Kenya.

The Al-Shabab are Muslim extremists, with strong ties to Al Qaeda. They support the imposition of strict Sharia Law throughout Somalia. According to CNN 4/18: Alshabab declared that it would continue fighting until Sharia law is imposed in Somalia… strict interpretation of Sharia forbids girls from attending school, requires veils for women and beards for men, and bans music and television.

Obama’s growing predicament
From the Post, 04/11:

Obama Team mulls aims of Somali extremists: Sees potential terror threat

Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps… Al-Shabab, whose fighters have battled Ethiopian occupiers and the tenuous Somali government, poses a dilemma for the administration, according to several senior national security officials who outlined the debate only on the condition of anonymity.

The organization’s rapid expansion, ties between its leaders and al-Qaeda, and the presence of Americans and Europeans in its camps have raised the question of whether a preemptive strike is warranted.

An attack against al-Shabab camps in southern Somalia would mark the administration’s first military strike outside the Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan war zones.

“There is increasing concern about what terrorists operating in Somalia might do,” a U.S. counterterrorism official said. According to other senior officials, the camps have graduated hundreds of fighters.

Kenya in Crisis
This is all taking place at the same time as a Constitutional crisis is gripping the Kenyan Government. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is making a power play to seize control of the governing board which will oversee the next elections. (Source: Kenya-Somali blog).

Odinga is first cousin to US President Barack Hussein Obama. Odinga and his supporters have been accused of being responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of non-Muslims in Northern Kenya villages prior to the 2006 elections.

Upon his ascension as Prime Minister, in 2007, PM Odinga invited “moderate” members of Mungiki to join in the new government known as the “Grand Coalition.” Some African opposition blogs have alleged that Mungiki supporters now serve in high posts under Odinga. (Source - MajimboKenya.com)

The Mungiki are now leading a violent uprising in nothern and central regions of the Nation, while also fanning violence in the slums of the Capitol City in Nairobi. Mungiki rebels who support the imposition of strict Sharia Law, have brutally hacked to death hundreds of villagers in remote regions who’ve opposed their local rule. It is rumored that Odinga approves of the actions.

Some news reporters and bloggers out of Africa have also suggested that the Mungiki are being supported by outside Muslim extremists groups, from Somalia, Sudan, and Ethopia. The Mungiki’s “Mafia style” operation is transporting weapons and funds from these sources into the hands of Mungiki fighters on the ground inside of Kenya. (More info on Mungiki weapons trade: “Mungiki infiltrate Kenyan Police” Kenyan Politics)

Al-Shabab Piracy near Kenyan waters
MajimboKenya.com (In Swahili - “Region News”)is reporting:

Another Reason for the Increased Focus in Kenya is the Somalia Situation. Most of the Pirates that have been captured by International Naval Elements in the Gulf of Aden have been taken to Mombasa and handed over to Kenyan Authorities. In the Past a Somali Insurgent Group has threatened to attack Kenyan Interests for assisting the International Community in the Struggle to rein in the Acts of Piracy. Since Kenya has a Direct Border with Somalia this is a threat that cannot be taken lightly.

Adding additional strain, a Maritime Boundary dispute is raging between the two countries. Kenyan and Somali officials tried to reach an agreement on a new Martime Boundary two weeks ago. But the tentative agreement reached is now in legal dispute. It is being roundly criticized by critics both from the Somali side, and from the opposition within the Kenyan government. This, in light of the recent incursions into Kenyan territorial waters by Al-Shabab Pirates.

From Xinhua http://www.chinaview.cn 4/11:

“What the Kenyan government want is to take advantage of the Somalia’s current situation and take part of our land but we will defend it with all we can,” Sheikh Hassan Turki, a senior insurgent leader in Kismanyu told local residents Friday.

Not the first time Somalians have intervened in its neighbor’s affairs
Somali insurgents have had a long history of intervention in neighboring Kenya.

The Bush administration maintained that members of the current leadership of Al-Shahaab were among those who participated in the Al-Qaeda sponsored attacks on the US African Embassies in Mombassa and Dar es Salaam in 1998.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Conditions ripe for Terrorism in Horn of Africa,” 04/22:

Al-Shabab (”The Youths”), a terrorist organization in the vein of the Taliban, is the landlocked answer for the “pirates” of the Indian Ocean…

Osama bin Laden praised al-Shabab and others in an audio message released last month: “Your patience and resolve supports your brothers in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic Maghreb, Pakistan, and the rest of the fields of jihad.”

Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, a former al-Qaida operative in Nairobi who is wanted for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, is now among the al-Shabab corps. So, too, are Abu Taha al-Sudani, formerly an al-Qaida leader and financier in East Africa, and Salah Ali Salah Nabhan, wanted for questioning related to a 2002 hotel bombing in Mombasa, Kenya.

Which all points to an expanding conflict which the Obama administration will soon be forced to deal with. It remains to be seen whether Obama’s ties to the region will be helpful, or enflame the growing conflict.

Editor’s Note - I have visited the region on two occasions. While in the Navy in the 1980s I had two Port Calls to the tiny nation of Djibouti, wedged between Ethiopa and Somalia.

Somali vigilantes capture pirates

Somali vigilantes have captured 12 armed pirates in two boats, as coastal communities begin to fight back against the sea raiders.

Regional leaders at Alula and Bargaal in Somalia's northern Puntland region told the BBC they have put together a militia of fishermen to catch pirates.

They decided to act as they were fed up with their fishing vessels being seized at gunpoint by the ocean-going bandits.

Meanwhile, the Seychelles said it had arrested nine suspected pirates.

The men were intercepted by a Spanish frigate near the Indian Ocean archipelago on Monday.

They are accused of firing on Saturday at the Italian cruise ship the Melody - which had more than 1,500 passengers - in an attack repelled by Israeli security guards.

"They are now in detention in a prison cell of the Seychelles police force and are expected to be charged and tried in the islands," Seychellois President James Michel's office said in a statement on Tuesday, reported AFP news agency.


See map of how piracy is affecting the region and countries around the world

Somali pirates have hijacked 25 vessels since the beginning of this year and are holding more than 260 crew around the stronghold of Eyl in Puntland, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Now frustrated regional leaders have taken the law into their own hands.

One of them, Faarah Mohammed, told the BBC: "There is a security committee set up by the communities who live in Bargaal and Alula.

"And they decided to confront whatever was creating problems in their areas and particularly, the problems of the sea piracy.

"And eventually their effort led to the capture of three boats and 12 men with their weapons. One boat got away."

The BBC's Somali Service says the militia will have to hand the pirates over to the local authorities.

Somali pirates could face the death penalty under recent get-tough measures announced by the internationally recognised but unsteady Somali government.

Navies from Nato, the EU, Russia, Japan, China, India, Yemen, US Malaysia and Singapore have been patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in an effort to deter the gangs.

But some regional leaders say the foreign navies are protecting foreign fishing boats and allowing them to continue scooping up the fish-stocks that once provided Somalis with their livelihoods.

The lucrative lobster trade with Dubai is said to have collapsed after the foreign boats' giant trawler nets damaged the fragile coral that is the crustaceans' habitat.

As a result some fishermen decided to become pirates, but it appears that the local communities are now turning against these activities, says BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut.

Source: BBC News

Russian navy seizes 29 pirates off Somalia: report

A Russian warship captured a suspected pirate vessel with 29 people on board off the coast of Somalia, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday, citing defense ministry sources.

Russia's Admiral Panteleyev anti-submarine ship seized the vessel 15 miles off the coast of Somalia at 1212 GMT on Tuesday, the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported.

"Seven Kalashnikov rifles, various pistols and an aluminum ladder were discovered during a search of the ship," RIA Novosti quoted the source as saying. Satellite navigation equipment and a large amount of ammunition was also seized.

"This allows us to assume that this group of pirates undertook two unsuccessful attempts to seize the TF Commander tanker with a Russian crew that was traveling through this region yesterday," RIA quoted the source as saying.

Russia is among several naval powers with warships in the area to protect one of the world's busiest sea lanes from spate of hijackings by Somali pirates.

Source: Reuters

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spain, France propose conference on Somali pirates

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero Tuesday announced that Spain and France will propose an international conference on lawless Somalia, where pirates continue to hold ships to ransom.

"We have agreed to propose the holding of an international conference on Somalia," he told a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The conference would offer a "wide response, not only on a security and military level, to piracy, which is afflicting both our countries and others," he added.

It would be a "complete" response to the problem on a "political, security and civil level for the future of this country."

Somali pirates are currently holding at least 16 ships and more than 250 seamen to ransom.

They have defied an increased international naval presence to step up attacks during favourable weather, seizing more than 10 vessels in April alone.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off lawless Somalia increased tenfold in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2008, jumping from six to 61.

The heavily armed hijackers operate high-powered speed boats, sometimes holding ships for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.

An EU naval mission proposed by France and Spain, Atalante, began operations off the coast of Somalia last December in an effort to stop attacks in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest trade routes.

Source: AFP

Somali vigilantes capture pirates

Somali vigilantes have captured 12 armed pirates in two boats, as coastal communities begin to fight back against the sea raiders.

Regional leaders at Alula and Bargaal in Somalia's northern Puntland region told the BBC they have put together a militia of fishermen to catch pirates.

They decided to act as they were fed up with their fishing vessels being seized at gunpoint by the ocean-going bandits.


Meanwhile, the Seychelles said it had arrested nine suspected pirates.

The men were intercepted by a Spanish frigate near the Indian Ocean archipelago on Monday.

They are accused of firing on Saturday at the Italian cruise ship the Melody - which had more than 1,500 passengers - in an attack repelled by Israeli security guards.

"They are now in detention in a prison cell of the Seychelles police force and are expected to be charged and tried in the islands," Seychellois President James Michel's office said in a statement on Tuesday, reported AFP news agency.


See map of how piracy is affecting the region and countries around the world

Somali pirates have hijacked 25 vessels since the beginning of this year and are holding more than 260 crew around the stronghold of Eyl in Puntland, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Now frustrated regional leaders have taken the law into their own hands.

One of them, Faarah Mohammed, told the BBC: "There is a security committee set up by the communities who live in Bargaal and Alula.

"And they decided to confront whatever was creating problems in their areas and particularly, the problems of the sea piracy.

"And eventually their effort led to the capture of three boats and 12 men with their weapons. One boat got away."

The BBC's Somali Service says the militia will have to hand the pirates over to the local authorities.

Somali pirates could face the death penalty under recent get-tough measures announced by the internationally recognised but fragile Somali government.

Navies from Nato, the EU, Russia, Japan, China, India, Yemen, US Malaysia, Singapore have been patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in an effort to deter the gangs.

But some regional leaders say the foreign navies are protecting foreign fishing boats and allowing them to continue scooping up the fish-stocks that once provided Somalis with their livelihoods.

The lucrative lobster trade with Dubai is said to have collapsed after the foreign boats' giant trawler nets damaged the fragile coral that is the crustaceans' habitat.

As a result some fishermen decided to become pirates, but it appears that the local communities are now turning against these activities, says BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut.

Source: BBC

India and Africa’s satellite links set to expand

An ambitious project to link up African Union countries with Indian hospitals and universities via satellite will accelerate this year after a pilot project in Ethiopia proved successful.

Ethiopia was the first country to participate in the Indian taxpayer-funded project, called the Pan-African e-Network, and Nigeria is scheduled to go online in June.

The project, which will cost more than US$100 million, aims to connect universities and hospitals of all 53 countries in the African Union with Indian counterparts for telemedicine and tele-education activities.

It uses video conferencing and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype for communication.

Students and teachers at Addis Ababa University and Haramaya University in Alemaya, Ethiopia, have been working via satellite with the New Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Open University since Ethiopia’s US$2.12 million pilot project was launched in Addis Ababa in July 2007.

Ethiopia’s Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa and the rural Nekempte Hospital are also consulting with Indian heart specialists at the CARE Hospital in Hyderabad and the Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital chain. Doctors in Ethiopia can transmit digitised forms of x-rays, electrocardiograms (ECG), ultrasound scans and other test results.

Satellite ground stations are being installed at universities and hospitals in Cameroon, Egypt, Malawi and Niger. Botswana, Burundi, Djibouti, Mozambique and Uganda are scheduled to join the network later this year, with the Comoros islands, Cote D’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia following by the end of 2009.

“The Pan African e-Network will be a virtually interactive real-time session when it starts in June.

Students and teachers from India will meet at a fixed time and see each other on a giant video screen.

They interact live like in a normal classroom environment,” says Bayo Ore from the Centre for Information Technology and Systems at the University of Lagos—which is implementing the tele-education component of the Nigerian project.

Joanna Nwosu, the programme officer for the Nigerian Academy of Science, warned that the e-network’s main challenge might be the lack of equipment for diagnosis and constant power cuts.

But Akin Osibogun, the chief medical director at Lagos University teaching hospital, said an Indian technical team is in Nigeria to train local technical staff to run the system and uninterrupted power supply equipment has already been installed.

Source: FutureGov

'Serious public health crisis' looms in Kenya's camps

In searing equatorial heat, several dozen men, women and children sit crowded around a metal faucet amid a pile of empty jerry cans and used water bottles.

"No water," says one of the men from under the half-shade of a few dried branches.

Then, without warning, water begins gushing out onto the sun-baked earth as a frenzied crowd jostles for one of the taps. An elderly woman resorts to spooning a few cupped handfuls of water from a murky puddle into her large, hollow container.

This is Hagadera, the largest, oldest and most overcrowded of three Somali refugee camps clustered around Dadaab in Kenya's arid and impoverished North Eastern Province.

"The water supply is below minimum emergency standards," said Maeve Murphy, a field officer with the UNHCR in Hagadera, where aid agencies are trying to drill additional boreholes. "There is concern whether the actual water supply is even there."

But a water shortage is only one of many problems facing refugees who have fled continued violence in neighbouring Somalia only to arrive at camps that aid agencies say are now critically overstretched.

Originally built to hold 90,000, the camps were already home to more than 150,000 in December of 2006, when an Ethiopian-led invasion into southern Somalia ousted the ruling Islamic Courts Union and replaced it with a UN-backed transitional government, a move that was intended to bring stability to a country ravaged by years of anarchy and violence.

It didn't.

"There is still killing for no reason in Somalia," said Muhammad Farah, 30, who last month fled the southern city of Kismayo, now controlled by a resurgent Islamist militia. "Anyone with a gun can just kill anyone he wants."

He was waiting at the UNHCR office in the Dagahaley camp, where staff have been struggling to register and distribute ration cards to 500 recent arrivals each day.

In January alone some 9,000 refugees flooded into Dadaab. Last month there were 7,300. Now home to more than 260,000 people, the refugee camps are among the largest in the world and space and services are in short supply.

Mr. Farah, who was about to receive a food-ration card for his family after 11 days in the camp, was living under a tree, a scrap of cardboard for shade, with his mother and siblings and other refugees, 20 in all.

"We've been concerned for a long time about the conditions in these camps," said Emmanuel Nyabera, with the UNHCR Kenya office, which has been in negotiations with the Kenyan government and local communities since 2007 for land to build an additional camp.

In a part of Kenya where basic resources are scarce, questions have been raised about the benefit of playing host to a large refugee population.

In the meantime, overstretched agencies, a lack of shelter and an inadequate number of poorly built and maintained latrines are among the conditions that Oxfam has said amount to "a serious public health crisis."

"I'm telling you, there was a lot to be done when we got here," said Ephantus Wanjema, a medical doctor with the International Rescue Committee, a New-York-based organization that in January took over a ramshackle hospital in the middle of Hagadera, where last month cholera swept through the camp.

"We realized there was a likelihood of outbreak," he said.

But despite worsening conditions in the camps, refugees have risked a perilous journey even to get here, and it doesn't end after crossing the Somali border, which Kenya closed in 2007 when fighting erupted, citing security concerns.

In practice, it has meant that refugees are essentially smuggled into the camps and so are vulnerable to a notoriously corrupt Kenyan police force.

"The police were arresting many people," said one refugee in Dagahaley camp, who recently crossed the border with some 50 men women and children fleeing Kismayo and Mogadishu.

"If you don't have money, they're going to arrest you; they're also going to beat you," he said. "Many of the people who came with me, they were beaten, and they are now here" after family members paid for their release.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch and UNHCR separately accused Kenyan authorities of deporting busloads of refugees and asylum seekers to Somalia, in violation of both Kenyan and international law.

"When the government closed the border in January of 2007, they sent a very clear message that Somali refugees are not welcomed," said Gerry Simpson, lead author of a recent Human Rights Watch report.

Source: Globe and Mail

Somalia: Al-Shabab releases three radio journalists

Somalia's Islamist, insurgent Shabab released three journals from jail and allowed a radio station they closed down to be on air.

Heavily armed Shabab forces entered the premises of Radio Jubba late Sunday and detained the radio's director Mukhtar Mohamed Atosh, as well as its editor-in-chief Mohamed Adawe Adan and reporter Mohamed Nur Mohamed.

Officials say al-Shabab freed the journalists and allowed the radio to operate with condition. The director said that the Shabab warned against him to broadcast music and songs from the radio.

Baidoa, 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, is officially the seat of Somalia's transitional federal parliament but was conquered by Islamist insurgents in late January.

The Shabab and their Islamist allies controlling the southern third of the lawless country have previously imposed restrictions on the media. Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists, who have been routinely arrested by the authorities or kidnapped and killed by various armed groups.

amsomalia@mareeg.com
Spanish forces have arrested nine Somalis suspected of being the pirates who attacked an Italian cruise ship.

A warship intercepted a skiff carrying the nine Somali suspects, the Spanish defence ministry said.

The nine were captured near the Seychelles and handed over to authorities there, officials said.

The Italian cruise ship, the Melody, was attacked by a group of pirates in a speedboat in the area on Saturday. No-one was hurt in the incident.

The ship's crew and security men repulsed the attack by firing into the air and spraying the gunmen with water.

About 1,500 people were on the vessel.

Search launched

After the hijacking attempt, a search was launched for the pirates by the Spanish frigate Numancia, along with patrol planes from the Seychelles and France and an Indian navy ship.

Spanish officials said that during the search they found two small boats with nine suspects on board close to the scene of the attack.

The suspects abandoned one of the boats and were later caught in the skiff.

The Numancia "intercepted a skiff with nine occupants who could be connected to the hijacking attempt of the Italian cruise ship which was eventually repelled by the boat," the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by AFP news agency.

The nine are the latest suspected pirates to be arrested by international forces operating off the coast of Somalia.

France has charged three people with hijacking and false imprisonment after a rescue operation involving a yacht in the Indian Ocean on 10 April.

A Somali teenager is also facing trial in the US after being captured during the rescue of a ship's captain off the coast of Somalia earlier this month.

Source: BBC News

Somalia: Sudan to participate training Somali security forces

Sudan said Tuesday it will participate the training of the Somali security forces and help the Somali government.

The pledge came after Somalia’s president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed held talks on Monday with his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan Al-Bshir in Khartoum in a bid to get support from Sudan about the formation of the national army of Somalia.

The spokesman of the Sudanese president Mohamud Fadil told AFP that both presidents had a meeting in Khartoum and talked more about the formation of security forces for the Somali government and how the peace and the stability of Somalia would be restored.

The Sudanese foreign minister told the media after the meeting that the Sudanese government will help the Somali government and will take part the training of some of the Somali police forces and also the rebuilding of the economic infrastructure of Somalia.

amsomalia@mareeg.com

Somalia: Two European aid workers freed

Two employees of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have been freed by gunmen in south western Somalia, witnesses and elders said on Tuesday.

The two men, who work for MSF, a Belgian and a Dutch were taken in their car with their Somali bodyguards in Hudur, Bakol region ten days ago.

Clan elders in Rabdhure town confirmed that the two aid workers were released with out paying any ransom.

The area is run by the Islamist al-Shabab insurgent group.

The UN estimates 35 aid staff were killed last year and 26 abducted in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

amsomalia@mareeg.com

Somali pirates rue foiled ship hijacking

A commander of the Somali pirates who attacked a packed Italian cruise ship over the weekend bemoaned on Monday what he said was a missed opportunity to set a new hijacking landmark.

The cruise liner Melody, carrying more than 1 500 people, was attacked on Saturday but Israeli security guards on board the ship responded to the pirates' gunfire and were able to repel them.

"Unfortunately, for technical reasons, we could not seize the ship," Mohamed Muse told AFP by phone from the pirate lair of Eyl, in the northern Somali breakaway state of Puntland.

"We were aware that hijacking such a big ship would have been a new landmark in piracy off the coast of Somalia but unfortunately they used good tactics and we were not able to board," he said.

"It was not the first time we went for that kind of ship and this time we came closer to capturing it and we really sprayed it with gunfire," Muse said.

The captain of the cruise liner, Ciro Pinto, said the attack had felt like a war and praised the response of the security guards.

"The ship was very big and there were only a dozen pirates involved in the attack so we eventually had to decide to back off after chasing it for close to 30 minutes," Muse said.

Somali pirates are currently holding at least 16 ships and more than 250 seamen to ransom. Attacks surged in April as calm seas allowed them to approach their prey more easily and dodge the increasing naval presence in the region.

Source: AFP

Somalia: Transcript of FT interview with Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, president of

There have been 15 attempts to create a functioning government in Somalia since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. None of them have come close to working. Overrun by warlords and Islamist insurgents, the country is in the grips of another potential famine.

Proliferating acts of piracy on one of the world’s busiest trading routes off the Somali coast have forced up shipping insurance costs and are affecting global commodity markets. But they are also focusing international attention on the need for stability on land as well as sea.

Before Ethiopia invaded in 2006 Sheikh Ahmed was the leader of the Islamic Courts Union, an alliance of Islamic militias that during a six month period came closer than any other body to re-establishing order. In January he returned to Somalia from exile, and was elected by a UN-backed transitional parliament to lead the country out of chaos.

Last week at an international donors conference in Brussels, he won $213m of backing for African peacekeepers and for his plans to build a national security force, raising hopes that finally a concerted effort to put Somalia back together again is under way.

William Wallis, Financial Times Africa editor, interviewed Sheikh Ahmed at his hotel in Brussels after the conference.

Financial Times: What is the significance of today’s events for Somalia?

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed: What happened today is very important for two reasons. Firstly, there has always been this issue of the international community not being forthcoming enough and not being forthcoming at the right time. Secondly there has been a lack of leadership on the Somali side to seize the opportunity and establish a partnership with the international community. Today we believe these two things have come together.

FT: How do you plan to go about using the goodwill that has been generated at an international level, and the cash that is now coming with it?

SSSA: The funds and the political support need to be translated into actions on the ground first and foremost with regards to security. Security has to be established. Then it is important to translate this security and political will into actions that affect the needs of the public and to help reconstruction, education, and all the elements that give normality to life. The public must feel the change and see the change.

FT: But how will you be able to expand the writ of your government from what appears to be the very small part of Somalia you control?

SSSA: There are already many provinces … where government support and structures are present. Where our administration and reach exists, the delivery of services and justice should be strengthened and reinforced. Where it does not exist yet, these areas we must stretch our reach to.

FT: Will this necessarily involve force?

SSSA: Preparations in terms of the readiness of the public for peace are gathering pace by the day, and are already substantially established. In parallel, if we are also able to get the security forces on the ground and operational and these two forces are able to come together we believe it will be almost a natural process for the rule of law and the administration to reach those parts where they don’t already exist.

FT: How formidable do you consider the forces your government are up against?

SSSA: We believe that in essence there is no logic and no sustainable basis for armed forces opposing the government. The only options open for these opposing forces will be to either come into the reconciliation process either as the government or as opposition. Or, to return to civilian life, into their homes and into normal livelihoods.

FT: They seem pretty determined from the outside and at least a minority of them have backing from another pretty determined bunch [of people] headquartered out of the tribal areas of Pakistan [al-Qaeda].

SSSA: Once the government is strong enough and is fully on the ground there will come a time when those who act illegally either have to leave or will have to give themselves up. That moment will come.

FT: How far are you prepared to accommodate these forces in order to absorb them into the reconciliation process?

SSSA: We are prepared in a major way to accommodate and negotiate but the essential factor is there must be dialogue; there must be negotiation for that to happen.

FT: Are you already talking for example to [radical Islamic cleric] Hassan Dawir Aweys, or some of the leaders of the al Shabab militia?

SSSA: Not directly but many well-intentioned and well meaning Somalis are busy and engaged explaining to them the need for dialogue and peace. From our side they know and we have stated that we are ready for dialogue and negotiation.

FT: What do you make of the arrival in Mogadishu today [after more than two years in exile] of Mr Aweys?

SSSA: I think his return today will remind him that he left at a time when there was conflict and war and show him that today we are rebuilding peace. We believe he will choose to take part and support the peace process and re-establishment of security in the country.

FT: Do you consider him someone who is important in that process?

SSSA: There is no one who is not needed for this process of reconciliation and peace. Everyone is needed.

FT: How signficant is the recent passage in parliament of Sharia law in re-establishing state authority?

SSSA: It is very important for several reasons. One Sharia is a normal part of Muslim life and Muslim culture and tradition. Secondly there were people for whom this was a major factor, necessity, and in passing the bill and putting it through cabinet and parliament this enables us to show goodwill and to take that element out of the conflict and ensure it does not become an obstacle. It is part of the reconciliation process but also bringing people on board for the reconstruction of the state. Both psychologically and practically it is very important.

FT: How quickly can you bring back the court system? Is it something you can do very quickly given your experience at the head of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006?

SSSA: The government is actually very busy with that issue. It will need to absorb and take on experienced and knowledgeable people in that field.

FT: In 2006 the administration you were involved in was very effective in fighting piracy. Is that something you can reproduce now and what was the secret before?

SSSA: This is part and parcel of the security infrastructure and policies that we have. We believe that this will also be effective in tackling that issue successfully.

FT: Some of the countries [US, Ethiopia] that seemed very happy to see the back of you in 2006 when the Ethiopia invaded Somalia are now applauding you. Are these countries you can trust?

SSSA: Without a shadow of doubt we have to look forward and not back

Source: financial times