The International Crisis Group (ICG) is expressing frustration with the government of Puntland in Somalia after its lead investigator was thrown out of the country Thursday. Customs officials at the Somali airport repatriated ICG official Rashid Abdi, claiming previous reports on Somalia by the Crisis Group have always been negative. Abdi was in the country to ascertain the current situation after an escalation of piracy in the region. Heavily armed Somali men from the chaotic coastal waters grabbed world headlines with Saturday's capture of a huge Saudi Arabian supertanker. It was loaded with $100 million worth of oil, and the event is being considered the biggest ship hijacking in history. Rashid Abdi tells reporter Peter Clottey that he is shocked by the decision of the authorities in Puntland to throw him out of the country.
"I landed in Bosaso, which is on the tip of northeastern Somalia, and it is the main commercial port city in Puntland. Unfortunately, the security people took me and they said we know why you are here and we don't want you in this country and we are putting you on the same flight you came with. When I inquired why they were doing that, they simply said they are not happy with ICG's reporting on Puntland, which is curious because I think of all the reporting that I have seen coming out of Puntland, our report has consistently urged the international community should try and help Puntland tackle the security problem it faces, specifically the issue of piracy," Abdi pointed out.
He said the International Crisis Group is of the view that there are numerous problems associated with the increase in piracy.
"The position of the International Crisis Group has been that the issue of piracy masks a much bigger problem, which is the fact that the state is loosing grip. Criminal networks are becoming powerful and state security apparatus is unable to effectively cope. And so our position has been the international community should focus on enhancing the capacity of the Puntland government to fight its criminal networks, not only involved in piracy, but also involved in printing of counterfeit bank notes, and involved in the kidnap for ransom. So the state actually is at risk of collapsing and is at risk of the criminal network taking over," he said.
Abdi said the government's move of preventing people from knowing what is happening is detrimental to its efforts.
"I don't think it really helps the course of the government because I would have expected that the government would welcome reporters and international think-tanks and well-meaning international concerns and people who really want to see Puntland become a functioning mini-state, which it was. For me as I went, Puntland was being touted as this haven of peace in Somalia, as a stable, functioning mini-state. And it was seen like a kind of a model, which would be replicated elsewhere in Somalia. But here we are now seeing a mini-state, which is clamping down on basic freedoms, which is bundling out reporters and people like me who are well meaning. And they have this enormous security problem, which our presence would have helped highlight on," Abdi pointed out.
Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) is calling urgently on the United Nations to send peacekeepers to Somalia to stop the strife that it says is fuelling piracy and is being aggravated by feuding politicians.
Reports say the escalated attacks in Somali waters this year have sharply driven up insurance costs for shipping companies, and even made some companies divert cargo around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.