Somali president offers amnesty to pirates

Updated 28 February 2013
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Somali president offers amnesty to pirates

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s president has offered an amnesty to young pirates in a bid to end attacks off the Horn of Africa nation’s coast as he seeks to rebuild the war-torn country, he told AFP.
“We have been negotiating with the pirates indirectly through the elders,” said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. “Piracy has to end.”
Mohamud, elected by lawmakers six months ago, said that he wanted to offer an “alternative means of earning a living” to young Somalis who have taken up the gun to join pirate gangs.
However, Mohamud said that the amnesty was not open to pirate kingpins — those who take the vast majority of the profits from the attacks — some of whom are wanted by Interpol.
“We are not giving them amnesty, the amnesty is for the boys,” he said, speaking on Wednesday in an interview at Villa Somalia, the Italian colonial art-deco palace in war-ravaged capital Mogadishu.
Somalia has been battered by conflict since 1991 but a new UN-backed government took power in September, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled administration.
Large parts of the country have been carved up by rival militias who have developed autonomous regions that pay little, if any, heed to the weak central government.
Many of the most notorious pirates, who launched attacks far across the Indian Ocean earning millions of dollars in international ransoms, are based along the northern coastline of the semi-autonomous Puntland region.
The amnesty comes amid a sharp drop in the number of pirate attacks in Somalia, which are at a three-year low, thanks to beefed up naval patrols and teams of armed security guards aboard ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
However, while the pirates have lost ground, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) still warns that Somalia’s waters remain extremely high-risk.
Seven boats and 113 hostages are still held by Somali pirates, according to the IMB, while some pirates have turned to land-based kidnapping and banditry instead.
But piracy is only one of many challenges Mohamud faces in seeking to rebuild his devastated nation, with Al-Qaeda linked Shabab insurgents vowing to topple his government.
He plays down an assassination attempt made just two days after his election, noting that “millions of Somalis” died during the country’s two-decade civil war.
“There is a time when this (life) has to end,” said Mohamud, a relatively small man with a round face, a friendly smile, a small beard and a moustache.
The former professor, who set up Somalia’s first private university during the civil war, wants to build up a new state to replace the current one wrecked by war.
“This is still a failed state and we have to put the foundations in place,” he told AFP, adding that when he came to power he found that the “state was bankrupt, there was no money left at the treasury.”
-- “Very, very limited capacities” --
Mohamud, taking over from predecessor Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, whose government was widely condemned for rampant corruption, said that when he came into office, some security forces had not been paid for five months.
“They were close to coming onto the streets and looting, their officers told me,” he said.
In a nation ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt, Mohamud recounts how shortly after his surprise election a group of businessmen offered him $200,000 (153,000 euros) to spend as he wished.
“I asked them if they would have a problem putting this money into the central bank,” he said. “This gesture was very, very important.”
That action was so talked about that other businessmen followed suit and more than a million dollars were donated into the central bank, he said, taking visible pride in “this very, very important decision.”
In stark contrast, any mention of the widely condemned sentencing to a year in prison of a woman who alleged security forces had raped her, as well as the jailing of a journalist who interviewed her, puts him ill at ease.
“It hurts me a lot when I hear that a Somali woman has been raped,” he said, pointing out that he has “fought and advocated for women’s rights.”
While refusing to criticize the court’s decision to sentence the woman, he said somewhat apologetically he was “running a state with very, very limited capacities.”
Sitting next to the national flag — a white star on a blue background — he said he wanted to build a real state, even if the vast majority of the country is controlled by militia forces or Islamist fighters.
Areas under government control were wrested off Shabab extremists by a 17,000-strong African Union force, which fights alongside Somali troops and other pro-government militia forces.
“For the first time, this is a government that wants to bring back together Somalia’s fragmented society,” he said, appealing for international aid to be coordinated with the government.
Mohamud, who says he has never fired a rifle in a country awash with weapons, has also asked for the lifting of an international embargo on arms sales to his government.
“We cannot build capable security forces unless the arms embargo is lifted,” he argued.
United Nations officials said Wednesday the Security Council is set to ease the two decade-old arms embargo against Somalia.
The measure is likely to be part of a council resolution renewing the mandate of the AU force, which should be passed on Wednesday next week.


Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

Updated 5 min 22 sec ago
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Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

  • Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”
  • Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs: “They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility.”

ROME: Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister accused a German charity on Thursday of ignoring coast guard orders when its Dutch-flagged ship picked up 226 migrants off Libya’s coast and he said they should be taken to the Netherlands not Italy.
Earlier this month Matteo Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.
On Thursday, Mission Lifeline, a charity based in Dresden, Germany, pulled migrants off two rubber boats in international waters even though it was told by Italy that Libya’s coast guard was coming to get them, a spokesman for the charity said. They would not have been safe if taken back to Libya, he said.
Salvini, also leader of the anti-immigrant League party, addressed the charity in a Facebook video: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”
International maritime guidelines say that people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest “place of safety.”
The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies do not deem Libya “a place of safety” because they say migrants there are subject to indefinite detention, physical abuse, forced labor and extortion.
A Lifeline statement indicated its vessel was heading northwards with the 226 migrants and called on “the competent authorities to swiftly react according to their obligation to designate a place of safety.”
“They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility,” Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said in response, without elaborating.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he had asked the coast guard to investigate state flag issue.
Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said the migrants aboard its boat included 14 women and four small children. “We didn’t want to wait for the Libyan coast guard because people were in danger,” Steier told Reuters.
Waiting for the Libyans would have constituted allowing “an illegal pushback” of refugees to a country where they are not safe, he added.
With its hard line on rescue boats, Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda. Italy has seen more than 640,000 land on its shores since 2014 and is currently sheltering 170,000 asylum seekers.
Germany is also seeking to restrict asylum-seekers’ movement in the bloc. An emergency “mini-summit” has been called for Brussels on Sunday to discuss immigration ahead of a full, 28-state EU summit on June 28-29.
Toninelli, who oversees Italy’s ports and coast guard, had called last weekend on the Netherlands to recall Lifeline and another Dutch-flagged ship, Seefuchs. On Thursday, Toninelli said Lifeline was acting “outside of international law.”
“The transport minister is lying,” Steier shot back. “We always act in line with international law. Always.”
Salvini has denounced the charity ships as “deputy traffickers,” suggesting they profit from the rescues.
Earlier this week a tribunal in Palermo shelved an inquiry into whether German charity Sea Watch and Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms were in contact with smugglers, saying no evidence was found.