January 27, 2006

Somali pirate demands release of US-captured comrades

By Mohamed Ali Bile

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A Somali pirate has demanded the
release of "comrades" captured by the U.S. Navy last week,
threatening to kill hostages in the future if the call was not
heeded, according to media reports on Friday.

Acting on a report of an attempted attack, U.S. Navy
sailors pursued and caught a ship near Mogadishu with 10 Somali
pirates on board and 16 Indians believed to be hostages.

"The Americans should release the 10 men they are holding,"
said Garaad Mohamud Mohamed, who told Shabeelle radio he was
speaking on behalf of the captured pirates.

"If they don't we will kill any hostages we capture and
attack any ships unlawfully plying our waters."

Two Somali ministers dismissed Mohamed's threat saying the
latest arrests were part of a government plan to fight piracy
along Somalia's long coastline.

"We don't recognize him. He cannot do anything,"
Information Minister Hayr told Reuters in Nairobi.

"The government is aware of the arrests and is coordinating
with the Americans on this matter."

Piracy has become endemic in the unpatrolled waters off the
coast of lawless Somalia, where dozens of hijackings and
attempted seizures have been reported since mid-March.

The wave of attacks has badly shaken merchant shipping
which relies heavily on key international trade routes that
snake down Somalia's coastline -- Africa's longest. The attacks
have also hampered efforts to get aid to Somalia.

In November, the Somali government signed a two-year deal
worth $50 million with a U.S. marine security firm in a bid to
end piracy.

Somalia collapsed into anarchy in 1991 when rival warlords
overthrew military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Many militias
controlled by powerful warlords smuggle drugs, weapons and
people by road, sea and air around the region, experts say.

Piracy is a lucrative and increasingly popular offshoot of
this illicit trade.

(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Nairobi)