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Africa's Top Diplomat Blames Somalia's Feuding Politicians for Piracy Surge


Africa's top diplomat is blaming Somalia's feuding politicians for the surge in piracy along the coast of the Horn of Africa, and is calling for swift international intervention. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping is holding urgent talks on the piracy issue with several European diplomats, including visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union presidency. Speaking to VOA, Ping said the surge in activity by Somali pirates is a symptom of the political failure that has brought the country's U.N.-backed transitional government to the brink of collapse.

"Piracy is an extension on the sea of the problem you are facing on the land. Of course we talked about all these problems [like] piracy, which is an important aspect of all the disorder you already have in Somali territory," Ping said.

An African Union statement urges the U.N. Security Council to dispatch a peacekeeping force to assist a beleaguered A.U. force of about 3400 troops trying to maintain order in the lawless country that is home to a raging Islamist insurgency. The statement quotes Ping as saying piracy is a clear indication of the further deterioration of Somalia's political situation, with far reaching consequences for the entire Horn of Africa region.

In a pointed message to Somalia's feuding leaders this week, both the United Nations and the East African regional grouping IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) approved economic sanctions on anyone blocking peace efforts in the Horn of Africa nation. Diplomats say the resolutions are equally aimed at politicians and pirates, both of whom have contributed to the instability that in turn has led to what aid officials call the world worst humanitarian crisis.

The surge in Somali piracy has led the world's largest shipping company, A.P. Moeller-Maersk of Denmark to suspend shipping through the Gulf of Aden. Several countries, including the United States, India and Russia have sent navy ships to the region to try to protect commercial shipping. But officials admit it will be difficult to police the vast oceans where heavily armed pirates operate, using high-powered speedboats.

The pirates have seized eight vessels in the past two weeks, including a Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil.

In one rare instance of countermeasures, an Indian Navy ship Tuesday destroyed a pirate "mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden. Such 'mother ships' are used to transport gunmen and speedboats to targets offshore.

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