- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

MOMBASA, KENYA (AP) - France will offer to train Somali forces and the United States will send its top Africa envoy to an international conference on Somalia next week as the world tries new initiatives to stabilize the country and quash piracy off its coast, officials said Friday.

The European Union said donors are expected to pledge at least euro200 million ($262 million) to bolster Somalia’s fledgling security forces as they confront Islamic militancy and escalating piracy.

France will offer to train a 500-strong Somali battalion in neighboring Djibouti, Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said.

The Obama administration is sending its top Africa diplomat, acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Philip Carter, according to State Department spokesman Robert Wood. An official from the U.S. Agency for International Development also will attend, he said.

Pirate attacks continued off the Horn of Africa even as new plans were announced. Pirates unsuccessfully tried to hijack Danish registered cargo ship M.V. Puma in the Gulf of Aden Friday morning, according to Per Nykjaer Jensen, chief executive of the Danish company Shipcraft.

A boat with five armed pirates tried to board the ship around 7 a.m. but failed after the ship zigzagged and an emergency flare was fired in the direction of the pirates, Jensen said. A helicopter from the multinational anti-piracy force in the area was able to chase them away.

Nykjaer Jensen said the three Danes and four Filipinos on board are fine.

The ship was almost empty and was on its way back to Europe from Singapore.

The United States pressed Somalia late Thursday to root out the pirates menacing the seas off the Horn of Africa.

“We want to press them to take action against these pirates who are operating from their territory,” Wood said, adding that the United States was willing to assist but had not yet decided how best to do that.

Somalia’s prime minister said he could go after them if other nations give him the resources he needs. He said his government s drafting a plan to build up its military forces, establishing intelligence-gathering posts along its coast and sharing information with more developed countries trying to freeze the pirates’ assets.

Somalia’s new plans could open the way for more missions to hunt down the pirates inside the lawless country _ actions that have been authorized by the United Nations but rarely carried out. But Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke has little power inside his own country _ his government barely has control of a few square miles (kilometers) in the capital, Mogadishu, and only then because the area is patrolled by African peacekeepers.

Sharmarke told The Associated Press that his piracy-fighting plan would be ready next week in time for the conference on Somalia in Brussels being organized by the European Union and the United Nations with participants including the U.N. secretary-general, Somalia’s president and commanders of the EU anti-piracy flotilla and an Africa Union peacekeeping force on the ground. The Islamic Conference and Arab League also will send representatives.

Donors have also been reluctant to fund a government with little transparency and accountability but the recent spike in piracy attacks may change that.

An EU official in Brussels said the conference aims to raise at least euro170 to support the peacekeeping operation, and another euro24 ($31) million for the Somali police force established last year.

A future donors’ conference on reconstruction will deal with institution-building and improving the livelihood of the Somali people, said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new U.S. initiative Wednesday to battle piracy after the brigands tried but failed in two dramatic attempts to hijack U.S. cargo ships, both carrying food aid for hungry Africans, including Somalis.

The pirates kidnapped American Capt. Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama and held him for five days in an enclosed lifeboat in sight of a U.S. destroyer in an ordeal that highlighted the dangers of operating merchant ships in the Horn of Africa, one of the busiest and most precarious sea lanes in the world.

Phillips was saved by U.S. Navy sharpshooters who killed three pirates Sunday.

A fourth pirate who surrendered during the dramatic rescue and is the only Somali survivor of the attack, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, will be brought to New York to face trial, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said Thursday.

The Netherlands and France also are prosecuting pirate suspects in their own courts.

But other countries are calling for piracy cases to be prosecuted at a special court in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. Kenya’s foreign ministry confirmed Friday it is studying a proposal to establish a special piracy tribunal.

“You can’t follow normal courts’ procedure to try pirates,” said Mwangi Thuita, the ministry’s permanent secretary. “Some witnesses may come from outside the country. So we need to set up some kind of special court to try them.”

Thuita said the aim is to “speed up the prosecution and increase the efficiency and transparency of the process of trying pirates.”

In Paris, the French Defense Ministry said 11 pirates its forces seized in a raid Wednesday hundreds of kilometers (miles) off the Kenyan coast will be turned over to Kenyan authorities. The pirates will be brought to the Kenyan port of Mombasa on Monday on the French frigate Nivose, the ministry said.

French authorities had said the pirates were planning an attack on the Liberian cargo ship, Safmarine Asia.

In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, Sharmarke and the president of the semiautonomous Puntland region have met with U.S. diplomats including the ambassador to Kenya. Clinton said Wednesday she has formed a diplomatic team to press Somali leaders “to take action against pirates operating from bases within their territories.” She also said the United States is looking at freezing the assets of pirates who have extorted multimillion-dollar ransoms.

Sharmarke said his government is willing to share information that could boost that initiative.

“We have information on who is behind this, who is involved,” Sharmarke said. “There is a lot of money flowing in. … We are following very closely how money is distributed here.”

Behind the pirates are some powerful businessmen _ and a few high-ranking politicians, according to one captured bandit _ people whom Sharmarke said his government has identified.

Sharmarke said the amount of money the pirates have gotten in the last eight months “is quite enormous.”

“With this capital, they are able to get much more sophisticated weaponry and technology. So it is very sad that we have to still deal with this arms embargo to equip our own forces,” he said.

A U.N. arms embargo against Somalia has been in place since civil war broke out there in 1991, but the country is bristling with illegal weapons.

Wood said U.S. officials would take up the proposal “as soon as possible” with a 24-nation group that works on Somali piracy.

AccuWeather.com reported that weather conditions in the region were likely to continue playing into the pirates’ hands for the next several weeks. Very small waves and light winds make it easier for the pirates to operate the small speedboats they use to attack ships. Unrestricted visibility at day will help lookouts on vessels watching for attacks, but little or no moonlight works for the brigands, the weather service said.


Associated Press writers Michelle Faul, Katharine Houreld, Malkhadir M. Muhumed and Todd Pitman in Nairobi, Jennifer Barchfield and Angela Charlton in Paris and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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