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Kenya May Host Piracy Conference as Problem Escalates


The Kenyan government says it is willing to host an international conference that brings world leaders together to tackle the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The announcement follows numerous warnings from analysts that the piracy situation is likely to get worse unless the world also recognizes the root causes of it. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Nairobi.

Addressing foreign diplomats in the capital, Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula invited world leaders to meet in Kenya to formulate a response to increasing acts of piracy in the waters off the east coast of Africa.

"My president has directed me and my colleague, the minister of defense, to organize a major international conference here in Kenya in the shortest time possible, where he himself will take the lead to discuss how to fight piracy," he said. "Without a coordinated approach, it will be difficult to fight this criminal enterprise."

Analysts have long pointed to a link between political instability, poverty and the rise of piracy in the Horn of Africa.

The foreign minister hinted that the conference may also focus on ways to rescue Somalia from 17 years of civil war, which has destroyed much of the country and has left 43 percent of the population dependent on food aid.

The United States, Europe, and their allies in East Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, have been criticized for neglecting Somalia diplomatically and economically for decades and intervening only when the country presented a threat to global security or commerce.

In late 2006, Ethiopia, with U.S. support, intervened militarily in Somalia to replace a hard-line Islamist movement with a secular-but-weak and unpopular transitional federal government. The country's future remains deeply uncertain now with the government near collapse and Islamist fighters closing in on the capital Mogadishu.

Kenya's Wetangula acknowledges that mistakes have been made and that the world cannot end piracy without also addressing Somalia's political problems.

"Partly, this menace is born out of our collective failure to resolve the problems of Somalia," he said. "It is the lawlessness in Somalia that has given the breeding ground for what is now an unprecedented threat to trade activities, to many things."

Somali pirates have attacked more than 120 vessels this year in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden, a busy waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal.

More than 35 vessels have been seized, allowing pirates and their bosses to collect tens of millions of dollars in ransom. Wetangula says the Kenyan government believes pirate networks may have collectively earned as much as $150 million, far higher than the United Nations' estimate of about $30 million.

There has been growing concern that some of the money is being diverted to fund Islamist terrorists in Somalia.

Six days ago, Somali pirates showed their growing boldness and prowess by seizing the biggest ship to date - a 330-meter Saudi-owned supertanker carrying $100 million worth of oil and a crew of 25. The gunmen are now reportedly demanding an unprecedented $25 million for their release.

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