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New secret Somali anti-piracy force

05 December 2010, 23:18

Nakuru - A senior UN official cautiously welcomed news that an anti-piracy force is being created in Somalia but he and US officials say they're concerned about secrecy surrounding the undertaking.

An unidentified Muslim country is backing the project and is paying an ex-CIA man and a former senior US diplomat, The Associated Press reported last week. The military force for the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, and for Puntland, a northern semiautonomous region, is expected to number up to 1 050 men.

"It's a good thing that Puntland is training an anti-piracy force," said Alan Cole, the head of the anti-piracy programme at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

But he said he wants to know the identity of the donor, the laws governing the force, how recruits are screened and the chain of command.

"Those who are providing equipment have a responsibility to make sure those who are going to use it understand the limits of their authority and are properly trained," Cole said.

The US State Department said the identity and aims of the donor are unclear and raised concerns that the training may break a UN arms embargo on Somalia, which has been fractured by civil war for nearly 20 years.

The US says it is not funding the project, although the donor country is employing two Americans - a former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues and a former CIA deputy station chief - to help advise the Somali government on the training and other issues.


Tamara Parker, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the US is aware Puntland authorities are contracting with a private security company to assist them in counter-piracy.

"However, we have not been consulted," Parker emphasised. "We are concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the programme's funding, objectives and scope.

"We're also concerned this programme could potentially violate the 1992 UN Security Council arms embargo on Somalia."

Puntland officials did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

Ten years ago, a different Puntland government hired a British security company, Hart Security, to train a coast guard in a programme that was ultimately unsuccessful. Some analysts believe graduates of the course deserted and became pirates, pointing to incidents like the 2008 hijacking of a Japanese vessel in which some pirates wore coast guard uniforms.

Others say there is not enough evidence to show that Hart graduates became pirates and the current programme should not be discouraged.

"It's too easy to criticize security contractors," said Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, which provides information about piracy to shipping companies. 

"But the answer to piracy has to be regional engagement."

Coast guard

Pierre Prosper, a former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, earlier told AP he is being paid by a Muslim nation he declined to identify to be a legal adviser to the Somali government on the project.

He said Saracen International is the contractor that is being paid by the unnamed Muslim nation to do the training.

Uganda-based Saracen International was also identified in a letter and a statement from Puntland's government and the Somali president's former chief of staff. But Bill Pelser, the chief executive of Saracen International, denied his company is involved.

Pelser told AP he made introductions for another company called Saracen Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have no record of a company called Saracen and Pelser did not provide details.

A multinational naval force patrolling the waters off East Africa has limited capabilities to end Somali piracy. Experts, along with the force's own commanders, have said the only long-term solution is to go after pirate havens on land.

An effective Puntland coast guard could dramatically cut down on attacks, Gibbon-Brooks said. There many pirate groups based in southern Somalia but the northern gangs remain the most experienced and dangerous, Gibbons-Brooks said.

Somali pirates currently hold 22 ships and 521 crew, according to the European Union Naval Force.

The Puntland administration, which nominally falls under the Mogadishu-based government, is generally seen as stable and efficient. Puntland also has rich marine resources - a possible source of lucrative fishing licenses.

A consortium of companies are also exploring for oil and gas but instability has largely prevented these resources from being exploited.

- AP


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