| HARGEISA, March 29
HARGEISA, March 29 The United Nations has
transferred 17 convicted Somali pirates to a jail in the
breakaway enclave of Somaliland, the first transfers of their
kind that could help resolve a dilemma over where to hold
criminals seized in international waters.
International navies have been fighting a surge of pirate
attacks that have disrupted a vital shipping route off the coast
of lawless Somalia and deep into the Indian ocean.
But it has long been unclear where pirates captured on the
high seas should be imprisoned, particularly while Somalia
itself remains locked in chaotic conflict.
The first batch of nine pirates were transferred by the
United Nations from a prison in the Seychelles to Somaliland on
Wednesday and another eight on Thursday following a deal signed
in London last month between the leaders of the two territories.
"This prisoner transfer represents an important step forward
in ensuring pirates are brought to justice," said Britain's
Africa minister, Henry Bellingham.
Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in
1991, enjoys relative peace and stability, and analysts hope it
might be a good site for more incarcerations in the future.
In a dusty airfield surrounded by abandoned planes and
dotted with soldiers, officials from the government and the U.N.
Office for Drugs and Crime watched as the nine stepped out of a
plane to serve the remainder of their prison sentences.
Another flight, chartered by the United Nations with eight
more convicted pirates, landed on Thursday morning.
"We sent three officers to the Seychelles to check if the
pirates are who they claim. We checked through dialect and clan
ties," said Mohamed Osman, head of Somaliland's Anti-Piracy
"There have been a number of assessment missions by the UK
and the EU at the end of last year and the beginning of this
year. We are expecting something to come of this," Osman said.
Funding from United Nations Development Programme helped to
build a prison in Somaliland's capital Hargeisa, where the
pirates are allocated a separate block away from other
Osman said the funding, and Somaliland's increasing
usefulness in the fight against piracy, would help the enclave's
bid for international recognition of its independence.
"As long as states are reaching agreements and signing
memorandums of understandings with us, that's a clear sign of
de-facto recognition," Osman said.
Somaliland is also hoping for more funding for its own
maritime police, to let it patrol its shores, particularly near
Puntland, a suspected pirate haunt.
"We need nine or 10 boats so we can put three boats in each
of our three sectors," said Admiral Ahmed Osman Abdi, Commander
of Somaliland Coast Guard.
(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Karolina Tagaris)