Somalia: UN meeting seeks to strengthen battle against pirates

28 January 2009

Regional States, countries patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia, and United Nations agencies are set to adopt an agreement this week to reinforce the fight against a scourge that has seen dozens of ships held for ransom in recent years, including vessels carrying UN food aid for millions of hungry Somalis.

Under the accord, signatories agree to arrest, investigate and prosecute actual or suspected pirates, seize their boats and rescue ships under attack. The agreement also covers possible hot pursuit into another country's territorial waters, and shared operations such as nominating officers to embark in the patrol ships or aircraft of another signatory.

But Somalia itself, which has not had a functioning central Government since 1991 and is riven by warring factions, is also expected to play a large part.

“One can have few hopes that the situation at sea will improve dramatically unless and until there is significant improvement on the political front on land,” UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos told the opening session of the four-day meeting, convened by his agency, on Monday in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti.

“For it is favourable political developments ashore that will help stem the scourge offshore. The fate of Somalia is in the hands of the people of Somalia as they, and they alone, are, and should be, the masters of their country and its destiny. We wish their leaders courage, wisdom, prudence and determination to bring peace and stability to their country and among its citizens.”

Transport ministers and ambassadors of regional countries, States that have sent naval forces to protect shipping, including China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and United Kingdom, and officials of international organizations cooperating with IMO, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are attending the meeting.

Mr. Mitropoulos stressed that the contributing alliances of Governments, organizations and individual countries such as the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia had done their duty and that the time had now come for regional States to add their own contribution.

Regional States attending include Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

In December, the UN Security Council unanimously called on countries and regional bodies with the necessary capacity to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast to fight piracy, including possible action against pirate bases on land.

Apart from chartered WFP ships, recent seizures by pirates have included a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship with arms on board.

Meanwhile, some 150 new members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Parliament belonging to the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) were sworn in today in Djibouti as part of an effort to bring former rebel opponents into the Government.

“We are finally seeing progress from the hard work by all sides to create an inclusive Parliament,” UN Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said.

The Parliament, which voted on Monday to expand by an additional 275 members, will elect a new president on 30 January, following the resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed last month. More ARS members will be sworn in tomorrow while 75 other seats are being kept for members of civil society and the opposition who are not members of the ARS.

In a letter sent today to the Somali diaspora, Mr. Ould-Abdallah noted that Somalis would have preferred to see the expansion of the Parliament and presidential elections taking place inside Somalia. “However, this important step towards restoring stability should ensure that future political processes are convened where they belong, inside your country,” he wrote.

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Piracy problem inseparable from overall Somali crisis, Ban warns

As the United Nations Security Council strengthened efforts today to fight piracy off the Somali coast, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the problem could not be divorced from the need to bring a comprehensive, inclusive peace to the war-torn country that has been without a functioning central government since 1991.