Seychelles to transfer pirates to Somalia
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Last Updated: Monday, March 05, 2012, 23:57
Montagne Posee (Seychelles): Like the other 92 Somali pirates held in the Seychelles' hilltop prison, where inmates can glimpse a small, tantalising slice of this island nation's crystal blue water, Ali Mohammed insists he is innocent.

"No pirates. Fishermen," the tall, wiry 50-year-old insisted.

The tiny island nation of the Seychelles is punching far above its weight in the fight against Somali piracy. Pirates make up 20 per cent of the 500-person prison population in the main Montagne Posee Prison. International navies dock on the islands. The US flies aerial surveillance drones from here.

And the Seychelles is one of the few countries in the region currently taking pirates to trial.

In a new development, 19 Somali pirates imprisoned in the Seychelles are scheduled to be transferred to the northern Somali region of Somaliland. The breakaway northern enclave of Somaliland has a stable, elected government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime paid USD 1.5 million to refurbish a prison there so it would meet international standards.

Navies have dropped off pirates for prosecution in Somalia before, said Alan Cole, a lawyer who works with the UN's anti-piracy programme. But the transfer would mark the first transfer of convicted prisoners back to Somalia, a necessary step to prevent regional prisons from becoming further overcrowded.

Seychelles President James Michel and Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo said the February agreement is an important step in establishing a sustainable justice programme that will see suspected pirates apprehended by naval forces, prosecuted by regional states and imprisoned in Somalia. "That, in the piracy world, is quite a breakthrough if it happens," said Britain's top diplomat here, Matthew Forbes, who also serves as a liaison in the Seychelles for the EU's anti-piracy naval force.

The transfer would also mark a break from disasters like a botched 2009 prisoner-for-hostages swap. The Seychelles secretly sent a plane with 23 suspected pirates to northern Somalia in return for three of its citizens taken hostage by Somalia. But local authorities had not been informed of the deal, and impounded the plane with security officials onboard.

The international community has been helping Seychelles become a centre of the anti-pirate fight. Britain and Seychelles announced last month the creation of a Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Center, an USD 875,000 UK-funded initiative that will gather intelligence to provide evidence for regional and global pirate prosecutions.

"The principle of burden-sharing in the fight against piracy is very important. Seychelles does not have the resources to fight piracy alone; we need the support of the international community both in terms of assets and capacity building," said President Michel.


First Published: Monday, March 05, 2012, 23:56

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