China, Russia Lead UN Initiative to Stabilize Somalia, Fight Piracy Threat

By Bill Varner

China and Russia are leading a new effort at the United Nations to curb the threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia and defeat al-Qaeda-linked terrorists fighting to seize control of the Horn of Africa nation.

Russia has circulated a draft resolution that would commit the UN Security Council to “urgently” begin talks on creation of three courts for piracy cases. The measure also would urge construction of two prisons for convicted pirates, and demand that all nations enact laws to criminalize piracy.

“We are trying to take the lead on tightening up the legal mechanisms for fighting piracy,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. “Some very serious thinking needs to be done.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate committee on March 3 that the Obama administration was “fed up” with the piracy, and that “we need to make it clear that the entire world had better get behind whatever we do and get this scourge resolved.” The U.S. is in the midst of a policy review on Somalia, and Clinton promised a “much more comprehensive approach.”

Clinton’s remarks followed the killing on Feb. 22 of four American hostages by pirates who seized their yacht.

China, as president of the Security Council this month, plans to lead a meeting on March 10 to call for a more comprehensive international strategy for dealing with political instability, piracy and the threat posed by the Islamic al- Shabaab militia. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to brief the council on the latest developments.

Al-Qaeda Links

Al-Shabaab, which the U.S. accuses of having links to al- Qaeda, controls most of southern and central Somalia, and the transitional government led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed holds only parts of the capital, Mogadishu. Somalia has been without a functioning central administration since 1991, when ruler Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.

China has circulated a draft statement that “recognizes the ongoing instability in Somalia contributes to the problem of piracy and armed robbery and stresses the need for a comprehensive approach to tackle piracy and its underlying causes.” The statement would be considered at the March 10 meeting of the Security Council.

The statement “strongly urges” Somalia’s transitional government to operate in a more “constructive, open and transparent manner that promotes broader political dialogue and participation.” It also asks UN member governments for greater support for the 8,000 African Union troops trying to defeat the insurgents.
African Union Peacekeepers

African Union peacekeepers supporting government troops have driven out Islamic insurgents from several key positions in Mogadishu since Feb. 19, the mission’s force commander said on March 5. The two-week offensive “helped to stabilize a large part of the city,” Major General Nathan Mugisha, who heads the mission, known as Amisom, told reporters.

The Russian draft resolution acts on the recommendations made to the Security Council on Jan. 25 by Jack Lang, the special adviser on piracy to the secretary-general. Lang, who said nine out of 10 captured pirates are released because there isn’t sufficient capacity to prosecute or incarcerate them, recommended establishment of specialized courts in semi- autonomous Somaliland and Puntland, and a third with Somali jurisdiction in Tanzania.

Piracy in the region costs as much as $7 billion a year in lost shipping revenue, higher insurance premiums and the expense of deploying naval warships to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, Lang said. He also warned of growing links between pirates and terrorists in Somalia who have been tied to al- Qaeda.

Pirates hijacked a record 53 ships and 1,181 crew members in 2010, most of them off Somalia, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.