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Spain, France propose conference on Somali pirates
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

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MADRID (AFP) — 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, April 28, 2009