From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Nov 20 2008 - 05:49:02 EST
Somali politicians fuel piracy, says African Union
Thu 20 Nov 2008, 8:35 GMT
(Adds Ukrainian ship ransom talks, pvs NAIROBI)
By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The growth in piracy off Somalia is being aggravated by the country's feuding politicians and the United Nations should send peacekeepers there quickly, the African Union's top diplomat said on Thursday.
Gunmen from the chaotic Horn of Africa country grabbed world headlines with Saturday's spectacular capture of a huge Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of oil, the biggest ship hijacking in history.
Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, said the increasing piracy was "a clear indication of the further deterioration of the situation with far-reaching consequences for this country, the region and ... international community".
Scores of attacks in Somali waters this year have driven up insurance costs for shipping firms, and even made some companies divert cargo around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.
Forces from NATO, the European Union and elsewhere are trying to protect vessels on one of the world's busiest shipping routes, linking Europe to Asia. Some nations seek a more robust response and say attacks will continue without political reconciliation onshore, where an Islamist insurgency rages.
Since seizing the supertanker Sirius Star, Somali gunmen have hijacked at least three other ships, maritime officials say.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Wednesday the owners of the Sirius Star were in talks over a possible ransom.
The tanker was seized 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya -- far beyond the gangs' usual area of operations. It was believed to be anchored near Eyl, a former Somali fishing village that is now a well-defended pirate base.
The ship was carrying as much as 2 million barrels of oil, more than a quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily exports.
The audacity of the attack underlined the extent of a crime wave that experts say has been fuelled by the Iraq-style Islamist insurgency onshore, dimming hopes for U.N.-led peace talks, and the lure of multi-million-dollar ransoms.
Somali gunmen are believed to be holding more than 200 hostages and about a dozen ships in the Eyl area, including a Ukrainian vessel loaded with 33 tanks and other heavy weapons.
An associate of the gang holding that ship, the MV Faina, said they rejected a $2.5 million ransom offer this week.
"The pirates and a broker met in the forest between Galkayo and Haradheere ... but the pirates stood by their demand for $8 million," the associate, Hussein Hassan, told Reuters.
Experts say pessimism over the outlook for peace talks, memories of disastrous interventions in the past and the need to deal with emergencies elsewhere have snuffed out international will to take further action onshore.
The AU's Ping strongly endorsed the conclusions of a regional meeting in Ethiopia this week that expressed dismay that Somalia's interim government had still failed to agree on a new cabinet and other steps towards political reconciliation. The Western-backed administration is insisting on U.N. troops to replace a small AU military force.
"(Ping) is particularly disturbed by the political impasse and the rift within the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) top leadership," according to an AU Commission statement.
"He calls for more sustained and coordinated efforts by the international community to support the peace efforts in Somalia, including the early deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces."
© Reuters 2008. All Rights Reserved.
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