Somali officials back assault on pirates

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Somali officials on Monday urged tough action against pirates holding a French yacht after an elite French army unit was placed on standby.

   MOGADISHU, April 7, 2008 (AFP) - Somali officials on Monday urged tough
action against pirates holding a French yacht after an elite French army unit
was placed on standby to intervene if negotiations failed.
   The local governor in Somalia's breakaway northern region of Puntland, Musa
Ghelle Yusuf, said he would be "happy ... to see the pirates killed."
   "The French and American ships must attack the pirates. They have our
blessing," Ghelle told AFP by phone, adding that the hijackers have been
encouraged by ransoms paid in previous ship seizures.
   "These pirates are terrorists and there is no need to negotiate with them,"
Guelleh said. "Attacking them will solve future piracy plans."
   In Paris, a defence source said troops from the French gendarmerie's elite
counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit were sent to Djibouti where they
will remain until further orders.
   The 32-cabin yacht Ponant, with around 30 crew members, was captured
Friday. Early Monday, it lay anchored off Puntland, which is relatively
peaceful and has proclaimed autonomy from the rest of the conflict-wracked
   At that time a French naval vessel had a close watch on it, but later, Bile
Mohamoud Ali, an advisor to Puntland's president, said the pirates were
heading to Haradere port, a pirate haven some 500 kilometres (310 miles) north
of the Somali capital Mogadishu.
   French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Sunday that "we've made
contact and the matter could last a long time."
   He did not rule out the payment of a ransom to secure the release of the
crew -- 22 French nationals and around 10 Ukrainians.
   French Defence Minister Herve Morin said there could be no military
intervention unless the safety of the crew could be guaranteed.
   A senior Puntland government official said residents had been urged to fend
off attempts by the pirates to come on shore and that two civilians were
killed Sunday in clashes with the hijackers as they attempted to dock.
   The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) called on the international
community to boost security on the northern Somali coast where a French luxury
yacht was seized, saying it has become increasingly dangerous.
   The IMB's Malaysia-based Piracy Reporting Centre said it was possible the
culprits were the same gang responsible for a spate of recent attacks off the
northern Somali coast.
   The centre's manager, Noel Choong, said anti-piracy activities, including
patrols by coalition warships, had suppressed incidents on Somalia's east
coast, but pirates had now headed north to the highly strategic Gulf of Aden.
   "Definitely this year we have seen a shift from the east to the north...
and that's a lot more dangerous because it's a main shipping route," he told
   "There are a lot of tankers carrying vulnerable cargo, and we are worried
about an environmental disaster if there's any attack on chemical or crude oil
   Choong said ships sailing along the eastern coast had been warned to keep
at least 200 nautical miles offshore, but that vessels passing through the
narrow Gulf of Aden were forced to stay relatively close to land.
   "The UN Security Council or someone must take some form of action to stop
these pirates from attacking innocent seafarers," Choong said.
   "Whether it's the military or something else, we have to show that we mean
business by securing the area. If not, it will just continue."
   Somalia, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea on a major trade route
between Asia and Europe via the Suez Canal, has not had a functioning
government since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.


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