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Somalia Says Relations With Russia May Be Harmed Over Pirates' Treatment

Somalia's Western-backed government says it still waiting for an apology from the Russian government for a recent incident in which Russian commandos set adrift captured Somali pirates hundreds of kilometers off the coast of Yemen with no navigation equipment.

Somalia's Information Ministry spokesman Abdirasak Aden tells VOA that diplomatic relations between the Transitional Federal Government and Russia may be harmed if the Russian government does not apologize to the Somali people for the incident at sea earlier this month.

Aden says Russia violated international human rights laws by casting suspected pirates adrift and not offering them the right to a fair trial. He says the Russian navy should have handed the suspects over to the Somali government for prosecution.

On the morning of May 5, a Russian destroyer was dispatched to rescue the crew of a hijacked Russian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden.

When the pirates refused to give up the ship, Russian Special Forces stormed the tanker.

One pirate was reportedly killed and nearly a dozen others were captured. The pirates, mostly Somalis, were stripped of their weapons and set adrift in an inflatable raft, without any navigation equipment, about 560 kilometers off the coast of Yemen. The raft disappeared and the men are presumed to have drowned.

The Russian navy said it released the pirates because there were no legal grounds to prosecute them in Russia. Somali pirates insist Russian troops executed their colleagues and dumped their bodies in the raft before setting it adrift. The pirates' claim could not be independently verified.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been escalating since 2008, costing the international shipping industry more than $100 million a year in ransom payments and rising insurance premiums. Pirates are currently holding more than 20 vessels and nearly 400 crew members at various locations along the Somali coast.

An armada of ships from several dozen countries is patrolling the waters in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean to disrupt pirate activities. But once captured, prosecuting suspected pirates has been no easy task.

Somalia, which has not had a functioning central government for nearly 20 years, lacks an independent court system to try suspected pirates. Some suspects have been flown to Europe and the United States for trial. But most are sent to Kenya and the Seychelles, where pirate cases are piling up faster than the courts can process.

Last month, Kenya said it would not accept any more suspects for trial because its legal system was overburdened. Under pressure from the international community to reconsider, the Kenyan government agreed last week to resume prosecuting but only on a case-by-case basis.

Because of legal difficulties, an estimated 60 percent of suspected pirates are released before they reach shore.