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Somalia Offers An Amnesty To Coastal Pirates

Sky News
Thursday, February 28, 2013

Somalia's president has offered an amnesty to pirates, in a move that risks angering countries that have paid millions in ransoms.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told the AFP newswire he had offered clemency in a bid to end attacks off the Horn of Africa nation's coast.

Mr Mohamud said: "We have been negotiating with the pirates indirectly through the elders. Piracy has to end."

A significant number of the pirates who operate off the Horn of Africa - disrupting international trade routes - are suspected of living in Somalia.

Piracy is thought to cost global trade more than £4bn a year and has also led to the deaths of dozens of sailors and some tourists.

David Tebbutt, 58, from Bishop's Stortford, Herts, died at the hands of Somali pirates after he and his wife Judith were kidnapped from the resort they were staying at in Kenya in 2011.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, who were seized near the Seychelles in 2009, spent 388 days in captivity before they were released unharmed.At the time of Judith Tebbutt's eventual release in May 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated the Government's pledge that they do not make concessions to hostage-takers.

According to the campaign group Saveourseafarers, 62 of the 3,500 seafarers who have been taken captive by pirates in a four-year period have died.

The group says many have been tortured and left traumatised.

Seven boats and 113 hostages are currently held by Somali pirates, but more than 570 ships have been attacked in the last five years.

The British Navy is one of the forces from a number of countries which patrols the waters around the Horn of Africa to protect ships.

Britain currently has four ships based in the region on anti-pirate manoeuvres as part of Operation Ocean Shield. The US has 13 ships, including two aircraft carriers.

The number of attacks has gone down, but the ships taking part still regularly engage in small scale conflicts with pirates operating in the area.

Piracy has escalated because of the rewards available with major international companies and insurance firms paying millions of pounds in ransoms to armed gangs who seize ships.

The exact number of pirates in Somalia is not known, but it is thought to be hundreds, if not thousands.

The more stable regions of the country including Puntland in the northeast and Somaliland in the northwest have both taken measures to combat the problem with mixed success.

But in the war-torn south, the industry has boomed as the government has been tied up fighting an extremist Islamic insurgency, said to be linked to the problem.

A British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report in 2012 recommended that special anti-piracy courts should be set up in neighbouring states like Kenya, to tackle the issue.

It is not known whether the proposed amnesty would apply to those already arrested for suspected piracy or just those who are active pirates who have yet to be detained.

The six-month old government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud - Somalia's first to be elected since 1991 - is slowly establishing a more peaceful, stable country, but it still has major law and order problems.

The president said that he wanted to offer an "alternative means of earning a living" to young Somalis who have taken up the gun to join pirate gangs.

The amnesty was not open to pirate kingpins, he said - those who take the vast majority of the profits from the attacks - some of whom are wanted by Interpol.

"We are not giving them amnesty, the amnesty is for the boys," he said.


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