March 4, 2009 / 1:28 PM / 10 years ago

Fight Somali piracy on land: defence minister

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Efforts to stop pirates hijacking ships off the Somali coast should start onshore, the country’s new defence minister said in an interview.

Commandos from a French frigate arrest nine Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, January 27, 2009. REUTERS/French Navy/ECPAD/Handout

“If anyone wants to fight piracy, it has to start from mainland Somalia, because the unstable situation on the mainland is largely responsible for the piracy on the water,” Mohamed Abdi Mohamed told Reuters in an interview late on Tuesday.

Somali pirates, typically in small groups aboard speedboats, have earned millions of dollars in ransoms after boarding and seizing vessels — from fishing trawlers to a Saudi supertanker.

With no effective central government in Somalia since 1991, the gunmen have been able to flourish using bases on land.

The surge in piracy has caused international alarm and warships from several countries have tried to curb the hijacks. But 49 piracy attacks have been reported so far this year, up from 35 over the same period of 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau in Malaysia.

Mohamed, who is known as “Ghandi”, was appointed defence minister last month in the new government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist who aims to bring peace to the Horn of Africa nation.

Mohamed is one of several government members, including the prime minister, who came from the large Somali diaspora. His main task is to form a Somali army, but he admits his experience of defence issues is limited.

He holds doctorates in anthropology/history and geology and from France’s Besancon University. He said he had been too busy in academia to gain much exposure to security affairs.

“Really, I don’t have experience in the affairs of defence, but I will try to understand how we can get a new Somali army that can stabilise Somalia,” Mohamed told Reuters.

He plans to study the structure of the former force, call a conference with experts and then, with the help of retired officers, form a new Somali army within a year.

“There are some people who were not involved in the civil war, but they did good study in the military strategic specialist schools, in Russia, Italy, Egypt and the United States,” he said. “What we need is to hear their experience and to hear also the advice for the new Somali army.”

Mohamed hopes to use dialogue to rein in the hardline Islamist al Shabaab fighters who hold sway in most parts of southern and central Somalia, along with a smaller Islamist group Hizbul Islam which is in parts of the capital Mogadishu.

“We hope that wisdom will prevail over violence ... because the Somali population is very tired and fed up with war.”

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