Surge in piracy sees eighth vessel captured

Eight boats in the hands of Somali pirates following spate of hijackings. Zimbabwe calls UN human rights experts a gatecrasher. US officials seek resolution prior to Honduran elections. Venezuela accuses Colombia of US-backed espionage. India will withdraw troops from Jammu. All this and more in today's update.
Sarah Gallagher
29 October 2009

Pirates seized a Thai fishing boat 650 miles off the Somali coast today in the latest in a surge of attacks. The pirates used two skiffs to board the vessel, which the EU naval force has said is now travelling toward the Somali coast. The EU's NAVFOR fleet will continue to monitor the boat. There has been a recent increase in Somali pirate attacks, coinciding with the end of the monsoon season. This latest incident takes the number of vessels on the Somali coastline under pirate control to eight.

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The ToD verdict: Currently there are 27 ships from sixteen different nations deployed as part of EU NAVFOR, NATO, US led Combined Task Force 151 or independent missions trying to protect vessels off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Yet despite successes, such as Tuesday's seizure of seven pirates following an assault on a French vessel, pirate attacks in the region are remain common and costly to international trade.

While Somali piracy may have started with a few fishermen looking for an escape from civil war, economic woes at home and displacement by foreign fishing vessels, it has turned into big business. Acts of piracy raised an estimated £50million this year alone. Interpol recently suggested that large organised crime groups are cashing in on piracy and that individual Somali pirates see only a small proportion of the money earned, however no consensus exists on the location or use of the proceeds of piracy .

Yesterday, the Somali prime minister, Omar Sharmarke, told the BBC that Somalia would put an end to piracy by 2011. Sharmarke said that he would tackle piracy through a civil affairs and information campaign, backed by military force. While the announced plan might seem too simple, his public commitment to confronting the issue indicates confidence that some success can be achieved.

As commentators have continuously reiterated, the solution to piracy in the Gulf of Aden is on land. Without stability and security in Somalia and the wider region, it is unlikely that attacks can be either discouraged or prevented. The recent counter piracy commanders meeting appeared to support this approach. However, with the current administration in Somalia struggling to maintain control of its capital, let alone outlying provinces, it is unlikely to succeed single-handed. The likely involvement and sponsorship of piracy by foreign groups makes this an even more distant goal.

UN human rights expert refused entry to Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe yesterday refused entry to a UN expert on human rights. Manfred Norwak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, had apparently been invited to Zimbabwe by Prime Minister Morgan Tvsangirai following reports of violent attacks on MDC members and human rights activists.

Zimambwe only told the UN that they would refuse entry to Norwak once he was on route to the country, claiming the SADC (South African Development Community) meeting on the power sharing agreement, which starts today made his visit impossible. Norwak welcomed the SADC meeting but did not feel that it was reason enough to cancel his trip. He stressed the need for an independent investigation of the claims of recent violence.

Zimbabwe state media described Norwak's visit as ‘gatecrashing' and said that ‘foreign media' were behind false claims of state orchestrated human rights abuses.

SADC members have said that they are on a fact-finding mission on the progress of the power sharing agreement and apparently are not intending to try and negotiate with the two sides. Whether SADC's engagement will remedy the situation is yet to be seen. This week's meeting is the result of a previous SADC review of the power sharing agreement which refrained from criticising Mugabe and was described at the time as ineffectual.

US officials in talks with Hoduras heads

A team of US officials travelled to Honduras yesterday to try to pressure both sides to reach an agreement ahead of the upcoming 29 November presidential elections. The US officials are accompanied by a representative of the Organization of American States and want to see an agreement between ousted President Zelaya and the current administration's head, Roberto Micheletti, allowing Zelaya to be reinstated prior to the elections. Micheletti has thus far refused to consider this possibility and reportedly ruled out such an outcome.

The US, along with much of the international community, considers Micheletti an illegitimate head of state who attained power by force. The EU has refused to send observers or recognise the outcome of any presidential election unless an agreement is reached between the two sides beforehand. Micheletti maintains that the ousting of Zelaya was legitimate after the Supreme Court ruled that he should be arrested for his plans to hold a referendum to allow presidents to serve more than one term. Micheletti and his supporters say that the constitution cannot legally be changed in this way.

Whilst Zelaya has made some concessions and has said that he will drop his proposal to change the constitution, it appears that his insistence on being returned to power is what will determine the success or failure of the talks.

Venezuela to try alleged Colombian spies

Hugo Chavez confirmed yesterday that two suspected Colombian security agents arrested in Venezuela on Tuesday would be ‘judged according to Venezuelan law'. Venezuela has speculated that the agents were on Venezuelan territory to investigate the killings of ten people, including eight Colombians, on the Venezuelan side of the border last week. Chavez openly accused Colombia of conducting US backed espionage. Colombia denied that it had security agents operating in Venezuela. Venezuela and Colombia have had a strained relationship in recent years which worsened after Colombia agreed to expand cooperation with the US military in its war on drugs.

Venezuela claimed Colombian rebel group ELN was responsible for the fatalities that have provoked the disagreement. ELN are the second largest rebel group in Columbia, a leading figure in which is thought to have fled to Venezuela following a jailbreak, an event which is expected to precipitate an upsurge in violence. Colombia has requested a comprehensive investigation into the killings, but it is unclear whether Venezuela will cooperate, having refused entry to Colombian officials hoping to collect the bodies of those killed.

Security officers probed for role in Baghdad blasts

Iraqi security officers have been arrested following deadly bombings that killed more than 150 people earlier this week. Immediately after the attacks Iraqi authorities pledged to step up security in Baghdad, particularly around government buildings expected to be the target of future attacks.

Since, a reported eleven high-ranking officials and 50 policemen, including those in charge of checkpoints surrounding the site of the attacks have been arrested. Political opponents of the government have called for further measures, with the governor of Baghdad calling for the resignation of the interior minister.

India withdraws troops in bid to resolve Kashmir dispute

India plans to withdraw 15,000 troops from disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian military official revealed today. The move may form part of an attempt to reach agreement on Jammu and Kashmir with separatists who consider India to be a foreign occupier. The announcement coincided with a two day visit to Kashmir by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Ghandi, the leader of the Indian National Congress, which began on Wednesday.

Their arrival coincides with the anniversary of the occupation of Kashmir by Indian soldiers and a strike was held on Tuesday in protest. The likely outcome of the visit an invitation from Prime Minister Singh for the separatists to join talks.

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