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Anti-piracy war 'must be fought on two fronts'

Diplomats gathered in Abu Dhabi say there must be a global effort to provide economic assistance to citizens of Somalia, as well as military action, to end piracy.

ABU DHABI // The war against Somali piracy must be fought on two fronts: battling the country's pirates, and feeding its people.

That was the view of envoys from seven countries whose citizens have been held by Somali pirates.

The diplomats from Italy, the Seychelles, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Thailand were in Abu Dhabi yesterday to discuss ways to end piracy.

They broadly agreed the keys were military action, restoring law and order, and increasing aid.

"Yes, we must get rid of the bases of pirates to avoid attacks but the international community cannot rely only on a military option," said Giorgio Starace, the Italian Ambassador to the UAE.

"There must be economic and social change linked to Somalia's recovery. Aid is not only for times of emergency. We need more engagement."

Somali pirates cost governments and the shipping industry up to US$6.9 billion (Dh25.35bn) last year, the advocacy group One Earth Future Foundation says.

The diplomats mapped out a range of measures to cooperate against piracy.

Pirate attacks and ransom demands are common off Somalia's coast because of its proximity to the Gulf of Aden, a shipping route through which 20 per cent of world trade passes.

This week, the European Union Naval Force conducted its first operation to destroy pirate equipment on the Somali coast, with the support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Until Tuesday, such operations were restricted to the waters off Somalia.

During yesterday's conference in Abu Dhabi, the ambassadors said tracing the money trail to find out where ransom funds were channelled was imperative.

"Somali pirates have become a destructive force because they have a safe haven," said Mohamed Gello, the Kenyan Ambassador. "They can attack ships and take these back toward the shore because the land is available to them.

"You deny them that opportunity and that is the solution to stop them. The answers lie in maintaining military pressure to reduce piracy and speed up the process of stability."

Mohamed Juma, the Tanzanian ambassador, said pirate attacks harmed tourism, with the number of luxury cruise ships falling from 20 vessels in 2006 to none last year. There have also been pirate attacks on oil rigs off Tanzania, Mr Juma said.

Tanzania has amended its laws to allow the prosecution on its soil of pirates captured in international waters. It is awaiting the UN's Security Council's sanction to launch a special court for prosecuting arrested pirates.

Law and order must be restored to Somalia, Mr Juma said.

"The Somali youth for 20 years have known nothing more than disorder. The institution of government must be made strong," he said.

Piracy also severely hit tourism and fishing in Seychelles, said Dick Esparon, that country's ambassador. There are now specially designated fishing zones patrolled by foreign security guards and Seychelles officers, he said.

Hussein Mohamed, the charge d'affaires of Somalia, said the average citizen there was hurt by food shortages and high prices.

Mr Mohamed said the families of hostages should know "the Somali people and its government are against such unlawful and illegal acts, which endanger people's lives".

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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