Some politicians and media pundits say the use of military force to liberate hostages held by Somali pirates will lead to greater violence. They say that until now, the pirates have rarely treated hostages harshly but that now, things may change. 

On Sunday, U.S. Navy snipers shot and killed three Somali pirates in a daring high-seas rescue of Captain Richard Phillips of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. Pirates in the Somali pirate stronghold of Eyl told reporters Monday that the United States is now their enemy and that they may kill any American hostages they take.

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Africa analyst J. Peter Pham does not believe violence is guaranteed and that the logic is false. Dr. Pham is the director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University outside Washington, D.C.

"[The incentives] for the pirates remain the same: live, healthy hostages command ransoms and it is the lure of the ransom that drives the piracy. Dead hostages command no ransom." What's changed, he says, is that the international community "is less prepared to passively allow them to go about their business and the price of doing business as a pirate has increased."

Some in the media portray the pirates as modern-day Robin Hoods, fighting armed Western military ships, trawlers that violate Somali waters and leave local fishermen impoverished, and ships that use the coast as dumping grounds for uranium and other toxic waste.

Pham calls those who promote these views "woefully misinformed":

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"The French yacht liberated by French commandos last week," he says, "was traveling well outside of Somali waters and was a pleasure craft."

"A week ago," he continues, "there was the seizure of the Yemeni fishing boat in Yemeni waters. So, we are seeing attacks outside Somali waters on vessels that have nothing to do with fishing or dumping, and what you see is an apologist trying to make a case for the inexcusable."

"The [US flag cargo ship] Maersk-Alabama," he says, "was carrying humanitarian supplies, some for Somalis, and was traveling more than 240 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia in international waters."

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[Pham says he sees no connection between the one-day visit to Mogadishu by US Congressman Donald Payne and the liberation of ship's captain, Richard Phillips. He notes that Payne has long been interested in security and humanitarian issues in the region as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health. He's also a member of House Foreign Affairs Committee. Payne said the visit had been planned for some time. He told the VOA Somali Service that he met with Somalia's president (Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed) and prime minister (Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke). He said they talked about the country's future and the pirates operating off Somalia's east coast.

Pham says the pirates do not come from the sub-clans of Somalia's traditional fishermen, but belong to crime syndicates using sophisticated intelligence for carrying out attacks financed by wealthy businessmen. And, he says the piracy is linked to the disintegration of Somalia and the lack of a strong central government. He says the long-term solution to piracy involves restoring governance and order. He says the root cause of piracy is the lack of government on land – an issue, he says, that must be addressed.

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