Nairobi: In the northern reaches of Somalia and the country`s presidential palace, a well-equipped military force is being created, funded by a mysterious donor nation that is also paying for the services of a former CIA officer and a senior ex-US diplomat.
A report has determined through telephone and e-mail interviews with three insiders that training for an anti-piracy force of up to 1,050 men has already begun in Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northern Somalia that is believed to hold reserves of oil and gas.
But key elements remain unknown - mainly who is providing the millions of dollars in funding and for what ultimate purpose.
Pierre Prosper, an ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues under former US president George W Bush, said he is being paid by a Muslim nation he declined to identify to be a legal adviser to the Somali government, focusing on security, transparency and anti-corruption.
Prosper said the donations from the Muslim nation come from a "zakat fund”, referring to charitable donations that Islam calls for the faithful to give each year. The same donor is paying for both training programmes.
Somalia hasn`t had a fully functioning government since 1991 and is torn between clan warlords, Islamist insurgent factions, an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, government forces and allied groups. Given that mix, the appearance of an unknown donor with deep pockets is troubling, said EJ Hogendoorn, a Nairobi-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"We don`t know if this unknown entity is operating in the interests of Somalis or their own self-interest," he said in an interview. "If it`s a company, there has to be a quid pro quo in terms of (oil and gas) concessions. If it`s a government, they are interested in changing the balance of power."
The new force`s first class of 150 Somali recruits from Puntland graduated from a 13-week training course on Monday, said Mohamed Farole, the son of Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole. The son, who is a liaison between the government and journalists and diplomats, said the new force will hunt down pirates on land in the Galgala mountains.
The range lies 125 miles north of the nearest main pirate anchorage but is home to an Islamist-linked militia that complains it has been cut out of energy exploration deals.
The Islamist militants led by Mohamed Said Atom have clashed with government forces several times this year.