Thu, Apr 30, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Suspected pirates seized: Russia

CAUGHT WITH KALASHNIKOVS The arrests would dwarf the number of pirates seized in other operations by international military forces patrolling the region

AFP AND REUTERS , MOSCOW AND MOGADISHU

French soldiers train on a rubber boat next to the French warship Nivose on Tuesday. The ship is taking a route along the Somali coast as part of an assignment escorting commercial ships to guard against pirates.

PHOTO: AFP

A Russian naval destroyer on Tuesday seized 29 suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia, the defense ministry said.

“The Admiral Panteleev [destroyer] captured Tuesday at 1412 GMT a boat carrying pirates. In total, 29 people were arrested,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Seven Kalashnikov machine-guns, handguns of different calibres, equipment including satellite navigation devices and a large number of empty shells were discovered on board the boat,” the statement said, adding that an investigation had been opened.

These arrests would dwarf the numbers seized in other operations by international military forces patrolling the waters off the Gulf of Aden in the last year.

The question of where any eventual trial for the 29 suspects might take place will also come to the fore.

Trials relating to a spiraling upsurge in pirate attacks in the region over the last year are largely being hosted by Kenya, following agreements with the EU, the US and Britain.

Eleven Somalis are awaiting trial in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa for piracy after their high-seas arrest by the French navy.

But a Somali teenager captured by US forces in a high-seas drama is to stand trial in New York on piracy charges — the first in the US for a century — that could put him in jail for life.

Despite international naval missions — including from NATO and the EU — ransom-hunting Somalis have tackled ever-bigger and more distant prizes.

Meanwhile, Somali gunmen freed two European aid workers on Tuesday without receiving a ransom, after holding them hostage for nine days in one of the world’s most dangerous places for relief agencies.

Attacks on humanitarian staff in the country have cut their ability to help in one of the world’s worst emergencies. More than 1 million Somalis have been uprooted by fighting in two years and 3 million survive on food aid.

Gunmen seized a Belgian doctor and Dutch nurse working for Doctors without Borders (MSF) on April 19 in the central region of Bakol, where the pair had been carrying out a nutrition study.

Dutchman Kees Keus said he and his colleague had been held prisoner in the bush since then.

“We are happy and we are on our way to our families. We were released by the authorities and the elders of the area where MSF is working,” Keus said in an interview.

Dag Horntvedt, MSF’s interim head of mission for Somalia, said the charity was relieved that the two men were safe.

“We are now working on getting the two reunited with their relatives and friends as quickly as possible,” Horntvedt said.

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