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As Standoff Continues, Somalia Permits Foreign Navies to Attack Pirates

BY Admin  October 1, 2008 at 7:40 PM EST

Somali pirates alongside Faina; AP via U.S. Navy

“The international community has permission to fight
with the pirates,” the head of Somalia’s Foreign Ministry told The
Associated Press.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf added, “The government
has lost patience and now wants to fight pirates with the help of the
international community,” he said in a radio address on Wednesday.

The MV Faina has been held by about 50 pirates since Thursday.
Its manifest includes 33 Russian-made battle tanks, anti-aircraft guns and a large
quantity of ammunition.

Several U.S. Navy vessels have encircled the ship for days, but
have not engaged the pirates, allowing negotiations to proceed. American
officials have not released details about the number of ships involved or their
exact location.

Aboard the ship, one crew member has already died of a
supposed heart attack, and there have been unconfirmed reports of mutiny within
the pirate ranks. A Kenyan official said three pirates were killed in a
shootout while they tried to decide whether to surrender or not, but the
pirates have denied that.

Somalia,
which has been without a stable government since 1991, has become a haven for
pirates in the last few years. More than 60 ships have been attacked off its coast
since January, up from just a handful during the same period in 2004.

The hijackers have demanded $20 million to release the ship
and the hostage crew, but some officials are concerned that they want more than
money.

Western governments have long suspected that Somali pirates
may have ties to al-Qaida or to Islamic insurgents fighting the government in Mogadishu.

American military officials said they would not allow the
pirates to keep or unload the weapons aboard the Faina.

“Our intent is for the ship not to offload any of its
cargo,” U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen told The New York Times.

But the pirates contend they have no intention of arming
insurgents.

“We don’t want these weapons to go to anyone in Somalia,”
pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told The Times. “We are not going to offload
the weapons. We just want the money.”

While warning not to “believe a word they say,” former
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn of the Elliott School of International
Affairs at George Washington University, says that the pirates are “nothing
but hooligans and thieves,” but added they have “nothing to do with
terrorism.”

Ted Dagne, an Africa specialist at the Congressional
Research Services, who last visited Somalia in January, agreed. He told
the NewsHour that when the insurgent Islamic Courts Union briefly controlled Somalia in 2006,
piracy “went down completely, the insurgents literally went after them.”

“These are young Somalis, not organized or political,”
he said. “[They] grow up in poverty and violence, they know how to shoot,
they know violence.”

Still, Jonathan Stevenson of the U.S. Naval War College,
said the U.S.
would probably not find it acceptable to “just let the Somalis go.” But
Stevenson does not predict a battle; instead, he imagines the navy will pursue
a “maritime siege” strategy, in which the U.S. would cut off the pirates and
wait until they give up.

“That country doesn’t need any more sources of
firepower,” he added.

Even as the negotiations and threats of military actions
continued, reports about where the Faina’s military cargo was headed continued
to be debated. Officially, the tanks were meant for the Kenyan government, but
Western diplomats, military officials, arms experts and the pirates themselves claim
otherwise. Most agree the likely destination was southern Sudan, to
supply the rebel group which fought a decades-long civil war with the central
government that ended in 2005.

Kenya
usually supplies itself with American or British military hardware and has no
history of using Russian equipment.

“I can tell you these tanks were not for Kenya,” a
Western diplomat told the Times on the condition of anonymity.

But the Kenyan government denied this; a spokesman told the
Times that they “buy weapons all the time. I don’t see what the big deal
is.” The Russian-made tanks were cheaper, he explained.

In June, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution
allowing foreign warships to enter Somali territorial waters and use “all
necessary means” to tackle piracy.

While Shinn predicts a greater international military
presence in Somali waters, he acknowledges that piracy will not go away until its
root cause –poverty and lawlessness– are addressed.

“It’s a part of the world where life is hard and cheap,”
Shinn said. “They’re willing to take very high risks for very high rewards,
and [with piracy] they figured out a way to do that.”