Puntland Minister Urges International Community To Help Somalia Fight Piracy
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Abdirahman Mohammed Salah (Bankax)
Interview with Puntland”s Minister, Abdirahman Mohammed Salah, by Javier Espinosa on 22 April in Somalia: "The Europeans Remember Somalia Now Because People Are Being Kidnapped"
Abdirahman Mohammed Salah is the [Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism of the autonomous region of Puntland -- one of the three regions into which Somalia is divided -- in an environment that Salah himself describes as "chaotic." The representative of the territory, which seceded from the rest of the country in 1998, stated that the hijackers of the "Playa de Bakio" belong to a faction that operates in central Somalia and seized the French yacht "Ponant."
According to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and experts on piracy as Andrew Mwangura, this militia calls itself Somali Marines and is the most sophisticated pirate gang on the coast. In fact, their members hold military ranks like a conventional naval force and the admiral of the fleet is Mohammed Ali Hassan. They also have an admiral, a vice admiral, a chief of maritime operations, and a person in charge of financial operations. They are bound by a code of conduct, which bans them from committing excesses with the hostages.
"They are the best organized, with an almost military structure and a great amount of weapons," Mwangura told AFP. In December, they kidnapped a journalist working for the French radio station Europe 1, who had attempted to investigate them. Oddly, piracy was practically eliminated in that region in the second half of 2006, while the law of the so-called Union of Islamic Courts, an alliance of Islamist fighters who were ousted by Ethiopian troops, ruled there. In the spring of 2007, the Somali Marines restarted the attacks.
(Espinosa) What information do you have about the hijacking of the Spanish boat "Playa de Bakio"?
(Salah) Those responsible for the hijacking are the same group that seized the French yacht (the boat "Ponant" was hijacked on 4 April and released a week later after the payment of $2 million). It is a militia that operates in central Somalia, far away from Garowe (Puntland”s capital), around Harardhere, Hobyo, and Garaad. They are currently heading there with the boat.
(Espinosa) Do you have any possibility of intervening and arresting them?
(Salah) We cannot do anything. That is an owner-less territory where neither our authority, nor that of the government in Mogadiscio (Somalia”s capital) can be exerted. It is a faction that has hijacked many boats. It has its own mobile phone lines, areas where they can hide themselves, heavy weapons, antitank missiles, and submachine guns. They have a logistic capability that we cannot match. We need help to finish this mafia off.
(Espinosa) Has any Spanish representative liased with your government?
(Salah) You are the first Spaniard who called us.
(Espinosa) What is the solution to stamp out piracy?
(Salah) Look, Puntland has 1,300 km of coastline, and we only have some old coastguard boats, which are completely outdated. For years, we have been asking the United Nations and the international community for help. It is not only about money, but about backing the establishment of a strong government that manages to unify Somalia. We have been suffering a civil war for 18 years, without state, plunged into anarchy, and you, the Europeans, remember Somalia now because people have been kidnapped. You had forgotten about us all this time, and we have always said that you should worry about Somalia, because we will not be the only ones to suffer, but the rest of the world, too. The pirates are only an example of what I am saying.
(Espinosa) Is it true that these pirates are somewhat popular on the Somali coasts, because the local population think they are somehow protecting the fishing resources from the foreign boats?
(Salah) Yes. There are many foreign boats, which are illegally fishing in Somali waters and destroying the whole area, because they use massive catching systems. It is not an argument, but some pirates use this enormous problem to justify their attacks.
(Espinosa) On certain occasions, the authorities have been accused of being lenient, if not of cooperating, with these pirate gangs.
(Salah) This is not true. We do not have any link with them. We simply lack the means to fight them.
(Espinosa) After paying the ransom for the yacht "Ponant," French special forces arrested six pirates in Puntland. Did they have your permission? What do you think of that action?
(Salah) Nobody asked us for permission and, of course, we disapprove of the fact that a foreign force arrives in our country to do as it pleases. Would you accept such a thing in Spain? We want to be helped, but not to be invaded. The French forces did it their way.
(Description of Source: Madrid El Mundo in Spanish -- center-right national daily )
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