Monday, 23 July 2012

Pirate leaders protected by Somali President and local governments, says UN

Kingpins "Virtually guaranteed 'impunity'"

At least one pirate kingpin seems to be under the protection of Somalia's President , who has issued him a diplomatic passport to save him from arrest; a United Nations investigation says that there are others, and has lambasted the climate of "impunity" that prevails in the country that protects pirate overlords in Somalia and abroad.

Reporting to the UN Security Council, the Monitoring Group on Somalia said that "senior pirate leaders were benefitting from high level protection from Somali authorities and were not being sufficiently targeted for arrest or sanction by international authorities," according to Reuters. The UN report quotes the case of Mohamed Abdi Hassan "Afweyne", a notorious pirate boss, who presented a diplomatic passport to suspicious Malaysian authorities in April; the document had been issued "with the authorisation of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed," and stated, somewhat disingenuously, that Afweyne was involved in counter-piracy operations. 

In a remarkable counter-offensive, President Ahmed claimed that the UN Monitoring Group report was one sided, and Afweyne's diplomatic passport was just "one of several inducements" offered to the pirate kingpin in return for stopping piracy and disbanding his group of criminals. Ahmed told the UN in a letter that its report "seems hell bent on soiling the good names of private members of the Somali people by throwing at them unsubstantiated allegations".

The protection of pirate bosses is apparently not restricted to President Ahmed's administration.  The Monitoring Group also criticised the Puntland government for failing to arrest powerful pirate leaders and instead concentrating on the arrest of low-level pirates.  In connected developments, a spotlight was thrown on semi autonomous Puntland's much hyped anti piracy force- the Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) - that was shut down after its Middle Eastern sponsors pulled the plug on finances. Hundreds of trained and armed soldiers were left stranded with no cash for food, salaries or anything else. Millions of dollars worth of equipment, aircraft, vehicles, arms and ammunition seems to have been 'abandoned' in Puntland in the process; analysts wonder where it will end up.

The UN has wanted to shut down the PMPF for quite some time, because of suspicion of Puntland President Farole's involvement with piracy. The true motives of its sponsors, connected foreign mercenaries- and their backers, who many say are in the West- were also viewed with great suspicion, analysts say. Meanwhile, piracy has almost halved off Somalia in the last year, thanks to more and more shipowners- and insurers- insisted on armed guards aboard vessels transiting the region.

The U.N. report said pirates are exploring "new types of criminal activity" in Somalia, like the kidnapping of tourists and foreign aid workers, besides "selling services as counter-piracy experts and consultants" in ransom negotiations. "This evolution of the piracy business model is being driven largely by members of the Somali diaspora, whose foreign language skills and bank accounts are all valuable assets," the report said, referring to a British businessman of Somali origin who is part of a piracy ring but who also runs a counter-piracy business.

"As a result, the international community is investing enormous resources to pursue and punish those at the bottom of the piracy pyramid ... while virtually guaranteeing impunity for those at the top of the piracy pyramid who bear the greatest responsibility and profit the most," the report said.

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