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Senior UN official urges broad-based approach to fight piracy off Somali coast

By UN

28 January - A top United Nations official today urged a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based strategy to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia, noting that the continued spread of the scourge points to the limits of a solely sea-based approach.

In recent years, pirates operating from Somalia have been hijacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and holding their crews and cargo for ransom.

Charles Petrie, the UN's Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, told a meeting of the Contact Group on piracy off the coast of Somalia that improved coordination between the international maritime community and military forces in the region, among other elements, has contributed to a decline in the rate of successful pirate attacks and raised the cost of pirate operations.

“And yet piracy continues to expand further out to sea, at times more than 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia,” he told the meeting at UN Headquarters.

Mr. Petrie added that the rising costs of these attacks are met by ever more innovative financing mechanisms, including the establishment of stock exchanges which allow local investors to earn returns on their 'investment' in piracy operations.

“These developments highlight the limits of an exclusively sea-based approach and emphasize the need for the international community to continue to deal with the issue of piracy in a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based approach.

“The United Nations remains committed to addressing the problem of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia holistically, in close coordination with the international community,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report issued last November, called for an integrated approach that would strengthen the capacities of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on land.

The approach should include further development of law and security institutions to complement the ongoing peace process in the strife-torn nation, including for the investigation and prosecution of those suspected of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Outlining some of the UN's initiatives, Mr. Petrie noted that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has begun work in the Horn of Africa nation to develop a prison system to enable the transfer of Somali pirates convicted in regional States to Somalia to serve their prison terms.

In addition, the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) has recently offered to provide technical assistance to Somalia in the review of its maritime zones legislation, to place it in a better position to address the conditions that nurture and favour piracy.

Meanwhile, the independent UN expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia issued a strong warning today on the security, human rights and humanitarian situation in the country, including Somaliland and Puntland.

Shamsul Bari, in a news release issued following his just-concluded visits to Kenya and Somalia, described as “extremely serious” the situation in southern and central Somalia, where civilians continue to bear the brunt of the fighting between the TFG and Islamist armed groups.

In particular, he noted that piracy, human trafficking and mixed migrations remain the most serious challenges to the Puntland Government.

“Piracy and the huge money it generates may pose a security threat not only to Somalia and the region, but to the whole world,” Mr. Bari stated, warning that “the recent killings targeting senior politicians in Puntland raise legitimate security concerns regarding the spread and the attempt of terrorist groups to destabilize Puntland and Somaliland.”

Mr. Bari was unable to visit the capital, Mogadishu, and southern and central Somalia due to security constraints.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 117,000 residents of Mogadishu have been displaced in the past month due to heavy exchanges of fire between Government troops and Islamist insurgents. It says that the latest round of fighting has caused 200 deaths among civilians and wounded 700 others.

In a related development, the Security Council today authorized the AU to maintain AMISOM until 31 January 2011.

The 15-member body also requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to continue to provide a logistical support package for AMISOM, and to continue providing technical and expert advice to the AU in planning and deploying the mission.