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U.N. council allows Somali anti-piracy fight on land

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday authorized countries fighting piracy off the Somali coast to take action also on Somalia’s territory and in its airspace, subject to consent by the country’s government.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband (L) listens to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice address a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address piracy off the coast of Somalia at the U.N. headquarters in New York December 16, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The United States said for the first time that the United Nations should deploy a peacekeeping force to war-torn Somalia and that Washington would push for a Security Council resolution by the end of the year to authorize one.

A surge in piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has pushed up insurance costs, brought pirates in the Horn of Africa country tens of millions of dollars in ransom and prompted foreign navies to rush to the area to protect merchant shipping.

But analysts say the international action has done little to deter the pirates, partly because the forces chasing them have not had the authority to take the battle onto land, where the pirates are based.

Tuesday’s U.S.-drafted resolution, passed unanimously by the 15-nation council, extends that authority to countries that Somalia’s interim government has told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are cooperating with it to combat piracy.

States “may undertake all necessary measures in Somalia, including in its airspace, for the purpose of interdicting those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea,” it says.

The Security Council session was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who were at the world body for talks on a range of world issues.

Although the role of the Somali government was repeatedly stressed in the resolution, that government is weak and divided. The country has been in virtual anarchy since the collapse of a dictatorship 17 years ago. Islamists control most of the south and feuding clan militias hold sway elsewhere.

It was also not clear what kind of forces would engage in land or air operations against the pirates or whether the U.S. military would participate.

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The resolution called on states to “take part actively” in the fight against piracy off Somalia.

It urged them to make agreements with countries willing to take custody of captured pirates to take law enforcement officials from those countries onboard their naval vessels to aid the investigation and prosecution of those detained.

On the day the resolution was passed, pirates hijacked an Indonesian tugboat used by French oil company Total off Yemen and a Turkish cargo ship was also reported captured. Around a dozen ships and nearly 300 hostages are being held in Somalia.

Rice told the council Washington would set up a contact group to promote anti-piracy efforts, including through sharing intelligence.

But, like other speakers, she said the piracy crisis was inseparable from the turmoil in Somalia. The United States “does believe that the time has come for the United Nations to consider and authorize a peacekeeping operation,” she said.

“We believe that by the end of the year we should try and have such a Security Council resolution,” Rice told reporters later. African countries favor such a force and South African envoy Dumisani Kumalo said, “It’s what we’ve always wanted.”

But U.N. officials fear a blue-helmet force would fail unless the situation in Somalia calms down.

Ban has proposed a multinational force with a wide mandate to pacify Somalia ahead of a U.N. peacekeeping force, but acknowledged that of 50 countries and three international organizations he had approached none had offered to lead one.

He told the council on Tuesday plans announced by Ethiopia to withdraw by the year’s end its forces supporting the Somali government “could easily lead to chaos.”

He suggested bolstering a so-far ineffectual African Union force in Somalia, helping the Somalis themselves to restore security and looking at setting up an international maritime task force to launch operations into Somalia.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham