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April 21, 2011

Somaliland president backs piracy prisons


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Somaliland president backs piracy prisons

Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud Silanyo

By Amran Abocar

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Somaliland will support a United Nations-backed plan to hold convicted pirates in its prisons, its president said on Wednesday, as the breakaway northern enclave bids to gain recognition for its independence.

Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo said Somaliland, which declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 but has not been formally recognised internationally, was already doing its part to curb piracy in its waters and was prepared to do more.

Piracy in the Indian Ocean has turned busy shipping lanes off the coast of the conflict-wrecked state into some of the most perilous waters on Earth and costs the world billions of dollars.

Silanyo backed the plan to set up special courts and prisons for captured pirates in the Indian Ocean region, along with neighboring enclave Puntland.

“We’ll imprison people captured in our seas … that’s what we can contribute. We are preparing to put out the force and we are preparing to provide the prison facilities as well,” he told Reuters in the United Arab Emirates’ capital, during a Gulf tour to drum up investment and aid.

The Russian-backed U.N. resolution supported the piracy courts but avoided the delicate issue of where exactly to hold those convicted.

Silanyo, elected in 2010, said Somaliland had already imprisoned pirates captured off its Red Sea coast but needed training assistance to combat the problem stemming from its chaotic neighbour to the south.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. First clan warlords and now Islamist insurgents active in Somalia mean the government controls little more than the capital Mogadishu.

The Somaliland leader reiterated his region had no interest in reunification with the rest of Somalia.

He said the independence of South Sudan after a January referendum bolstered the case for a similar move for Somaliland, a former British colony that joined with the rest of Italian-ruled Somalia after each gained independence in 1960.

“The recent developments in southern Sudan is a good example that the old idea that countries should remain as they were at the time of independence has changed,” he said.

“Examples like that can help our cause, they should help our cause.”

Political analysts have said the African Union would treat Sudan as an exception — as it did Ethiopia and Eritrea’s split in 1993 — and would not tolerate a domino effect across the continent.

But even if the AU were to entertain Somaliland’s ambitions, it is stymied by the absence of a Somali partner to negotiate any potential referendum or terms of secession.

Silanyo said Somaliland was also not keen to put its independence at Somalia’s discretion.

“The fact of the matter is, for all intents and purposes, there is no unity in Somalia. Who do you contact for negotiations? There are some people who come to us, who are in contact with us and understand our cause, but there is no unity, there is no entity to speak to as far as Somalia is concerned,” he said.

“But we are prepared to seek their cooperation.”

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