[dehai-news] VOA: Report from Somalia: Islamists Oppose Pirates on Somali Coast


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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Dec 23 2008 - 10:54:56 EST


Report from Somalia: Islamists Oppose Pirates on Somali Coast

By Alisha Ryu
Hobyo, Somalia
22 December 2008

        

On Sunday, the remote pirate stronghold of Hobyo in the Galmudug region of
central Somalia fell to Islamist militants. The growing strength of Islamist
groups in the coastal area may be tied to local anger over piracy and
deepening poverty.

A pirate taking a stroll on shore in Hobyo, Somalia, 22 Dec 2008

A pirate taking a stroll on shore in Hobyo, Somalia, 22 Dec 2008

The sight of emerald-green waves breaking along Hobyo's shores is worthy of
a postcard. The white sandy beach stretches endlessly onward and is broken
up only by the outline of a quiet fishing village in the distance.

Walking into the village, several women cross our path, startled at the
sight of a foreigner in Hobyo. They say nothing and move on quickly. We are
later told that no foreigner has visited the village in more than a decade.

Despite its serene appearance, this tiny community, 260 kilometers south of
the provincial capital Galkayo, has the dubious distinction of being one of
the most dangerous places on earth. Along with the coastal towns of Eyl in
northern Puntland and Haradhere to the south, Hobyo is a well-known
sanctuary for pirates, who have operated along the Somali coast for the past
several years.

The pirates made international headlines this year by seizing more than 40
vessels and earning an estimated $120 million in ransom.

At least a half a dozen U.S. warships are currently in the area keeping an
eye on the MV Faina, an arms-laden Ukrainian freighter hijacked by pirates
three months ago. The ship is anchored about 30 kilometers off the coast of
Hobyo. Another hijacked ship, a Saudi supertanker carrying an oil cargo
worth $100 million, is anchored between Hobyo and Haradhere.

Pirates are demanding multi-million dollar ransoms for both vessels.

Anti-Pirate Sentiment Strong Along Somalia's Coastal Poor

Thirty-year-old Hobyo resident Sharif Wadad Ade speaks with bitterness about
the pirates based here, describing them as outsiders who use the village
only as a convenient hide-out.

Ade says if the pirates were from Hobyo, they would be spending their share
of the ransom money to help the community. But he says the pirates come from
different parts of Somalia, so they do nothing to help the people.

Local clan elder Saeed Aden adds that residents are also angry because they
believe the threat of kidnappings posed by pirates is what is preventing
western aid agencies from visiting the area and setting up offices.

Aden says Hobyo and other nearby coastal towns were nearly wiped out by the
Asian tsunami, which hit the Somali coast four years ago. Aden says many
Somalis living along the coast are in desperate need of direct humanitarian
assistance.

He says the villagers do not support the pirates and just want the
international community to come here and help.

Little Evidence that Pirate Activities Benefit Coastal Communities

Such anti-pirate sentiment contradicts recent media reports that suggest
residents in Hobyo and other coastal towns have a close relationship with
pirates. Those reports say pirate activities have provided much-needed jobs
and the pirates contribute to local economies by spending lavishly.

But there is little in Hobyo to suggest that the residents are benefiting
from the millions being paid to pirates. There are few goods on sale in the
main market. The village has no running water or power. There is a pharmacy,
but no doctors. There is a school house, but there are no teachers or
students.

A house in Hobyo, Somalia likely used by pirates with 4-wheel drive vehicles
parked<br />outside, 22 Dec 2008

A house in Hobyo, Somalia likely used by pirates with 4-wheel drive vehicles
parked outside, 22 Dec 2008

The village appears to exemplify all that has gone wrong in Somalia since
1991, when the country's last functioning government fell and factions
fought to fill the vacuum.

In June 2006, an Islamist movement took power from a group of U.S.-supported
factional leaders, restored law and order and ended piracy in many parts of
Somalia through the institution of strict Islamic laws.

The Islamists were ousted six months later by Ethiopian forces, who
intervened to prop up a secular, but unpopular, central government. Since
then, Ethiopian and government troops have been fighting a losing battle to
keep the Islamists, including a militant militia called the Shabab, from
regaining power.

A pirate, who identifies himself only as Kahiye, says because Hobyo has been
under the authority of local clans, it has been easy for pirates belonging
to the same clan groups to use Hobyo as a haven.

But Kahiye says all pirates in central Somalia are under severe pressure
from Islamists to disband.

He says in recent months, pirates trying to go ashore in any area controlled
by the Islamists have been threatened and chased away.

Islamist Stance Against Piracy Wins Support

Somali sources tell VOA that the Islamists' tough stance against piracy has
prompted many poor people in coastal communities to quietly begin supporting
the return of Islamist rule.

And that is what they say may have emboldened local Shabab fighters to seize
Hobyo on Sunday. According to eyewitnesses, the Shabab launched a surprise
attack against pirates in Hobyo and the two sides fought a ferocious battle
in the village before the pirates retreated.

While the loss of Hobyo to the Shabab has dealt a clear blow to piracy, it
raises another troubling question, especially for the United States and its
western allies. They must now decide which, pirates or militant Islamists,
pose a greater threat to global security and economy.

 

 


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