Somalia’s prime minister told CNN Thursday that the international naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden are not solving the problem of piracy in the region.
Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke pointed to the recent increase in pirate attacks as evidence, and called for the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia to be lifted so the government can fight back against the pirates and local militant Islamist groups. “One of our biggest problems is that al-Shabaab has AK-47s, and the pirates have AK-47s, and the government has AK-47s,” the prime minister told CNN’s David McKenzie in Nairobi, Kenya. “You can’t expect the government to win against such a problem. The only way is to have sufficient capability, and it starts with lifting the arms embargo. You know, we have been handicapped by those sanctions.” Watch more from Somalia’s PM » The arms embargo on Somalia has been in effect for more than 16 years. Most serviceable weapons and almost all ammunition currently available in the country have been delivered since 1992, in violation of the embargo, according to the U.N. Security Council. Pirate attacks on ships in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia’s east coast accounted for 61 of the 102 attacks during the first quarter. That compares to six incidents for the same period in 2008, the IMB said. See map of attacks » The European Union and several nations, including the United States, have naval forces in the region to protect vessels against pirate attacks. The head of EU naval forces in the waters off Somalia said he believes navies can defeat pirates on the high seas, but ultimately restoring long-term stability to Somalia will be what stops the attacks.
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Still, Rear-Admiral Philip Jones told CNN, “It’ll be a long period of time before that’s successful, and we must be ready to secure the seas until that’s in place.” Meanwhile, international leaders gathered Thursday for a one-day meeting aimed at boosting security in Somalia to halt the growing piracy problem in the region. The conference in Brussels, Belgium, is aimed at supporting Somalia’s security and stability through more funding. Organized by the EU, it also includes leaders of the United Nations and African Union. “Assisting Somalia’s new government to establish increased security and stability across the country is critical for tackling the root causes of piracy,” the EU said in a statement about the meeting. “Recent events show that piracy is increasingly putting in jeopardy the security of ships in the Gulf of Aden and in the wider maritime region.” A dramatic increase in activity by Somali pirates led to a near-doubling in the number of pirate attacks in the first quarter of 2009, according to figures released this week by the International Maritime Bureau, which issues regular reports on piracy worldwide. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is attending the conference, indicated Wednesday he is not ready to send in U.N. troops to Somalia. He recommended instead a phased approach to restoring security. The idea of a U.N. peacekeeping force is “divisive,” Ban said, and “could exacerbate the conflict if pursued too soon.” Instead, Ban recommended supporting the existing African Union force in Somalia, helping to build Somalia’s own security institutions, and supporting political reconciliation in the country. If that step works, the U.N. would open a political office in Somalia to support the country’s political process, Ban said. Then, if the U.N. presence succeeds, the U.N. Security Council could decide on a U.N. peacekeeping operation to take over from the African Union force, he said. Human Rights Watch urged donors at the Brussels conference to make sure their funding will not contribute to human rights abuses. After international donors funded police training and salaries in 2007, the group said, the police were widely implicated in serious human rights abuses including armed robbery, the arbitrary detention of civilians, and murder. The group urged donors to vet personnel who receive financial assistance and respond to serious abuses when they occur.
“Donors need to focus on improving security for Somali civilians, rather than just for the transitional government,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Since Somalia’s security forces have committed so many violent abuses against civilians, efforts to strengthen them also need to make them more accountable.” Somalian President Sheikh Sharif Sheekh Ahmed is at the conference, along with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. The African Union’s commissioner for peace and security , Ramtane Lamamra, is also attending with Acting Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Phillip Carter.