HARGEISA — Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland on Tuesday inaugurated a UN-funded prison aimed at holding pirates but also warned it was not yet accepting those detained by foreign powers.
The prison in the region’s capital Hargeisa was refurbished by the United Nations at a cost of about $1.5 million (1.06 million euros) with the aim of making conditions there acceptable to countries wishing to repatriate Somali pirates.
But the region has backed away from accepting pirates seized by foreign forces, in what is likely to prove the latest setback to attempts by the international community to repatriate Somali pirates arrested on the high seas to east Africa or the Horn of Africa for trial.
“The transfer issue has not yet been accepted,” Ismail Moummir Aar, the Somaliland justice minister, told reporters during a visit to the region by a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) team headed by its director Yury Fedotov.
Fedotov’s team came for the official opening of the facility, which has the capacity to house about 425 inmates and which has actually been up and running for the past several weeks.
Of the 297 detainees currently in the facility, 88 are pirates from various regions of Somalia. All of them were intercepted by the Somaliland coastguard or by local people.
Aar said that Somaliland would for now accept only the repatriation of any Somaliland nationals to be prosecuted on piracy charges.
“We accept Somaliland (nationals) to be transferred to Somaliland. Each territory should prosecute its own pirates,” he said.
His invitation appears rather theoretical, however, as according to him there are no Somaliland nationals being held in foreign prisons.
Kenya, which was the first nation to accept to try pirates brought in by foreign navies patrolling off the Somali coast, recently indicated it was unwilling to take in more.
The Seychelles last year became the second country in the region to accept to prosecute Somali pirates.
The refusal by Somaliland to accept convicted pirates originating from other parts of Somalia and arrested by foreign navies could jeopardise that deal with the Seychelles.
Seychelles Transport Minister Joel Morgan last week said his country’s handling of pirates was clear: “We bring them to justice and then subsequently repatriate them to their respective countries.”
“Seychelles therefore welcomes the setting up of this new prison in Hargeisa for this purpose,” he concluded.
Source: 29 March 2011