Somali leader backs Indian action against pirates

New Delhi, May 15: Against the backdrop of Somali pirates currently holding over 60 Indian sailors as hostages, the African country’s Puntland state has backed military operations to rescue them and to fight piracy, even as its President Abdirahman Mohammed Mohamud Farole is in India to work out a naval capacity building agreement.

‘I always support the military operations to fight piracy,’ Farole told reporters on the sidelines of an event he -dressed at the Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA) at Sapru House here.

He was responding to queries if the Puntland government will support Indian military action to rescue its sailors held hostage by Somali pirates all along Somalia’s 3,300-km coast, of which 1,300 km fall in Puntland’s jurisdiction.

However, the feasibility of operations depended on the assessment of those forces wanting to take action. ‘If they ask for our support on the land, we can assist them,’ he added.

Puntland is a semi-autonomous state in north-eastern Somalia, which is now witnessing credible governance under Farole after two decades of internal conflict.

However, Farole, a leading anti-piracy advocate, had a word of caution on the fight against the sea brigands. ‘If you don’t stop the option of ransom payment, you won’t stop piracy. That (ransom) encourages new recruits and that (piracy) never ends,’ he said.

The other option to deter the pirates, according to the Puntland president, was to fight indirectly through other means such as denying access to the seas for the pirates and ensuring economic growth on the Somali coast that could offer youths alternative employment opportunities.

Though there were no ship held hostage in Puntland as of now, Farole admitted that pirates did escape into their territory ‘sometimes’ from neighbouring areas when the government forces fight them on land.

‘We are fighting them on the land, but we do not have support from the sea. We do not have the means to reach them in the sea. International forces off the shore do not want to hurt them because they are afraid the hostage may be hurt and that doesn’t work (in the anti-piracy fight),’ he said.

The Puntland chief, who is scheduled to meet Indian political leadership, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Wednesday, said he will discuss a military agreement with India, particularly in capacity building of its forces to fight piracy both on land and at sea.

‘Yes, definitely. Training…mainly to support training,’ he said to queries if a military agreement would be discussed with the Indian leaders.

However, he said his government does not allow any foreign military base in Puntland.

On the endstate he wished to achieve in both the fight against piracy and governance in Somalia that has been torn apart due to two decades of internal strife, he said: ‘Ten years from now, I expect Somalia to be united and prosperous, and become a honourable part of the comity of nations.’

Earlier, addressing a gathering of diplomats, former ambassadors and strategic affairs experts, Farole said his government is committed to do its utmost to safely release hostages held by pirates in the region, although most pirates had relocated outside Puntland.

‘Puntland government strongly and consistently rejects ransom payments as the primary factor fuelling piracy attacks. We believe that expensive naval patrols off the coast of Somalia cannot eradicate piracy alone, as long as the world continues to neglect the domestic conditions that produce piracy.’

He also noted that the costs and legal ramifications of piracy prosecutions in foreign countries is another obstacle. ‘These are problems that could be overcome by pursuing a new comprehensive approach to tackling piracy in full partnership with the Somali people and their institutions,’ he added.

IANS