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EU Navy cleared to attack pirates on land

European Union Naval Force extends the scope of its anti-piracy operations.
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Somali coastguards patrol off the coast of Somalia's breakaway Republic of Somaliland on March 30, 2011. Piracy has flourished and turned increasingly violent over the last few years. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The military pressure on Somalia's pirates is building. Everyone knows that piracy can't be solved at sea, but pirates can certainly be made to think twice by the likes of warships, armed guards, and now potential coastal and oceanic attacks.

More from GlobalPost: Somalia Pirate Wars

In a statement, the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) — one of three multinational anti-piracy navies patrolling the seas off Somalia — said the mandate of Operation Atalanta has been extended to Dec. 2014 after a vote at the EU Council. But the important point came next:

"At the same time the Council also extended the area of operations to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters. Today’s decision will enable Operation Atalanta Forces to work directly with the Transitional Federal Government and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy in the coastal areas."

In other words, the EU warships are cleared to attack pirates on land. This is a big change for an operation that began in 2008 with a very limited mandate to protect World Food Program (WFP) shipments to Somalia and patrol shipping routes.

Under the new rules, warships and helicopters are permitted to target pirate trucks as well as fuel dumps and skiffs on Somalia's beaches. It is not envisaged that marines will set foot on land nor that "pirate bases" — which are really just villages with both civilians and pirates — will be targeted.

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Mali's Tuareg rebels take advantage of military coup

As Mali struggles with military coup, the country remains vulnerable to Tuareg rebels in the north.
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After Tuareg rebels briefly seized two Malian army bases near the northeastern Malian town of Kidal, Malian soldiers prepared to counter attack on May 28, 2006. (Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images)
As expected, Mali's Tuareg rebels have decided to take advantage of the confusion following a coup attempt in the capital by announcing a new advance.
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Mali coup weakens regional security (VIDEO)

Military mutiny leaves Mali vulnerable to Tuareg rebels.
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Photo of a TV screen taken on March 22, 2012, shows soldiers announcing a curfew in Bamako after their military coup. The putschists, calling themselves the National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy, said the government's 'inability' to put down a Tuareg-led insurrection in the north and tackle terrorism led to their rebellion. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
It's early days - hours, really - for the soldiers who now claim to rule Mali after taking control of the presidential palace and the state broadcaster on Wednesday.
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Somali pirates release British woman, others still held

233 sailors are held on ships hijacked by pirates.
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Armed policemen patrol a stretch of beach near Kiwayu Safari village in Kenya on Sept. 12, 2011. Holidaying British couple David and Judith Tebbutt were attacked there on Sept. 11, 2011, by suspected Somalia based Al-Shabab militia, ending in the fatal shooting of David. Judith Tebbutt was held in Somalia for six months, before being released and flown to Nairobi on March 21, 2012. (WILLIAM DAVIES/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — British woman Judith Tebbutt, 56, has been released by Somali pirates after being held hostage for more than 6 months.

Sources in Somalia say that a ransom was paid, possibly as much as $1 million, scraped together by family and friends. A similar amount secured the release for the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler in November 2010 after more than a year's captivity. Like the Chandlers, Tebbutt was being held close to the town of Adado in central Somalia, in a similar location to where American aid worker Jessica Buchanan and her Danish colleague, Poul Hagen Thisted, were rescued by Navy SEALs in January.

Tebbutt was kidnapped from a luxury resort on the Kenyan coast on September 11, 2011. Her husband was killed in the attack and she was whisked away by boat.

A handful of private individuals remain in the hands of Somali pirates who increasingly operate as straight-up kidnapping gangs. These hostages include two female Spanish aid workers kidnapped from Dadaab, a complex of refugee camps in northeastern Kenya, in October.

That Tebbutt's family was able to raise the money for a ransom payment makes her lucky, and very unusual. Rick Blears of the pressure group Save Our Seafarers joined others in welcoming the news of Tebbutt's release but added, "Her release has highlighted the fact that the media spotlight is firmly on kidnapped civilians rather than any of the 233 working seafarers who are currently in captivity and have been so many months.

"Many of them are kept in appalling conditions while slow ransom negotiations with shipping insurers take place. Many of their families are just far too poor to pay any kind of ransom," said Blears.

GlobalPost reported on this issue as part of the recent series Pirate Wars. The other concern that Tebbutt's release highlights is that the paying of ransoms may only encourage more abductions of foreigners whether in Somalia or elsewhere.

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Food aid ripe for corruption reports Transparency International

Food deliveries are the riskiest and food voucher programs are better.
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Displaced Somali children wait in line for food aid rations on January 19, 2012 at a UN distribution center in the capital Mogadishu. A new report by Transparency International warns that direct deliveries of food are prone to corruption. (Tony Karumba /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The corruption watchdog Transparency International today published a report looking at the humanitarian response to the 2011 drought that afflicted Kenya and much of the rest of East Africa and the Horn of Africa, turning into a famine in Somalia.

The "Food Assistance Integrity Study" focussed on the distribution of food to needy people in Kenya and looks for ways to root corruption out of the system.

Simply delivering food itself was found to be the "riskiest, in terms of ensuring an effective, efficient, accountable and transparent response," said the report.

Other more innovative forms of helping people survive drought such as cash transfers and food voucher programs were found to be less prone to corruption.

The study also found a surprising lack of coordination to the extent that there was "relatively weak understanding as to 'who is doing what and where' in food assistance" and challenged the government, the World Food Program, aid agencies and donor governments to work together.

Kenya is not an isolated case. A recent investigation into food distribution in Mogadishu by the Associated Press found that even as tens of thousands of people were starving to death in Somalia last year unscrupulous politicians and contractors were stealing food meant to save lives, while there was inadequate oversight from WFP officials.

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African forests being stripped

World Bank reports that world's forests are rapidly diminishing, especially by illegal loggers.
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Sustainable logging being carried out in the natural forest around the Alpicam logging concession in the Kika region of Cameroon, June 8, 2010. This is a sustainable logging project but a great deal of Africa's forests are being stripped by illegal logging, according to a new report by the World Bank. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — "Every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers around the globe," says a new report from the World Bank titled "Justice for Forests." 

The World Bank estimates that illegal logging is worth $10 billion to $15 billion a year to the trans-national criminal gangs and syndicates involved worldwide. Much of these proceeds are spent on bribes thereby corrupting and subverting often already-weak regulatory systems and governance. In some countries illegal logging accounts for a staggering 90 percent of all logging.

“We need to fight organized crime in illegal logging the way we go after gangsters selling drugs or racketeering,” said the World Bank's Jean Pesme in a call to arms to governments and law enforcement agencies.

Some of the countries worst-affected by illegal logging are in Africa contributing to the deforestation of the continent.

 

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Somali pirates release British woman, others still held

233 sailors are held on ships hijacked by pirates.
judith tebbutt released 2012 03 21Enlarge
Armed policemen patrol a stretch of beach near Kiwayu Safari village in Kenya on Sept. 12, 2011. Holidaying British couple David and Judith Tebbutt were attacked there on Sept. 11, 2011, by suspected Somalia based Al-Shabab militia, ending in the fatal shooting of David. Judith Tebbutt was held in Somalia for six months, before being released and flown to Nairobi on March 21, 2012. (WILLIAM DAVIES/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — British woman Judith Tebbutt, 56, has been released by Somali pirates after being held hostage for more than 6 months.

Sources in Somalia say that a ransom was paid, possibly as much as $1 million, scraped together by family and friends. A similar amount secured the release for the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler in November 2010 after more than a year's captivity. Like the Chandlers, Tebbutt was being held close to the town of Adado in central Somalia, in a similar location to where American aid worker Jessica Buchanan and her Danish colleague, Poul Hagen Thisted, were rescued by Navy SEALs in January.

Tebbutt was kidnapped from a luxury resort on the Kenyan coast on September 11, 2011. Her husband was killed in the attack and she was whisked away by boat.

A handful of private individuals remain in the hands of Somali pirates who increasingly operate as straight-up kidnapping gangs. These hostages include two female Spanish aid workers kidnapped from Dadaab, a complex of refugee camps in northeastern Kenya, in October.

That Tebbutt's family was able to raise the money for a ransom payment makes her lucky, and very unusual. Rick Blears of the pressure group Save Our Seafarers joined others in welcoming the news of Tebbutt's release but added, "Her release has highlighted the fact that the media spotlight is firmly on kidnapped civilians rather than any of the 233 working seafarers who are currently in captivity and have been so many months.

"Many of them are kept in appalling conditions while slow ransom negotiations with shipping insurers take place. Many of their families are just far too poor to pay any kind of ransom," said Blears.

GlobalPost reported on this issue as part of the recent series Pirate Wars. The other concern that Tebbutt's release highlights is that the paying of ransoms may only encourage more abductions of foreigners whether in Somalia or elsewhere.

More

Mogadishu: mortars fired at Villa Somalia again

Clumsy, deadly, worrying attacks by Al Shabaab kill civilians and show government's shaky control of Mogadishu.
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Villa Somalia, the Somali presidential palace in Mogadishu, at top left, has been fired upon by Al Shabaab rebels. The attacks have killed civilians and highlight the tenuous hold that the Somali government and the African Union forces have on Mogadishu. (Roberto Schmidt /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Al Shabaab fired a series of mortars at Villa Somalia in Mogadishu late on Sunday night, targetting the seat of the shaky transitional government for the second time in less than a week.

But the mortars reportedly fell short, missing the government targets and landing instead in an informal camp close to Villa Somalia where thousands live in little dome-shaped huts made of bent sticks covered with rags. At least five people were killed, according to Reuters.

The dead reportedly included four members of a single family while others were injured by the explosions, according to the BBC.

This attack was clumsy though it's hard to tell whether that is down to carelessness or lack of skill with a mortar tube.

It underscores Al Shabaab's lack of concern for civilians, but also gives the lie to the government and African Union's claim to "control" almost the entire capital where suicide bombers still roam, IEDs are a near daily reality and insurgents can set up mortar positions unhindered.

 

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Somalia: National Theatre reopens in Mogadishu

Why reviving a cultural center is important in war-wracked Somalia.
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Spectators gather to watch a performance staged by artists at the open-air, Chinese-built Somalia National Theatre which was reopened for the first time in 20 years, on March 19, 2012, in Mogadishu. The fragile Western-backed government, which is waging an uphill battle against Islamist Al Shabaab militants in the Horn of Africa nation, claimed it was a sign that things were slowly improving in the pockmarked seaside capital. (Stringer//AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — How do you describe Somalia? War-ravaged, chaotic, the world's worst failed state and a nation of poetry lovers ... wait, poetry lovers?

It's true, as GlobalPost reported in this dispatch from a couple of years ago.

"Without poetry we would not exist as a society," Hadraawi, Somalia's most famous living poet, told me at the time.

Some weeks later in Mogadishu the director of Somalia's National Theatre lamented its closure and destruction during the decades of war.

"Our hope is the theatre will be rebuilt, then the singers and poets will come back," said Abdi Dhuh.

Yesterday his hope was realized when the National Theatre re-opened.

Battered and bruised by the years of conflict and neglect it welcomed members of the public to a show of poetry, singing and drama.

It is a small thing but of huge symbolic importance.

 

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American Omar Hammami says he is threatened by Al Shabaab (VIDEO)

He was the most prominent American in Somalia's Al Shabaab, but now he says he is in trouble.
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Uganda soldiers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) 33rd Battalion are silhouetted against the Mogadishu skyline at sundown atop a partially destroyed building in the Yaaqshiid District of Mogadishu, where Amisom forces have pushed Al Shabaab militants beyond the city's northern fringes to the outskirts of the Somalia seaside capital. This picture was taken on November 22, 2011. (Stuart Price /AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — He's been one of Al Shabaab's chief propagandists and a poster-boy for the group's foreign fighters but now it seems American-born Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansour Al-Amriki, thinks his comrades want to kill him.

Various reports on Monday said Hammami was arrested close to the port town of Merka and was taken into al-Shabaab custody, the arrest followed the issuing of this YouTube video posted at the weekend Al-Amriki, bearded and sitting in front of black flag and AK47, speaks briefly in English saying: "I record this message today because I feel my life may be endangered by Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahadeen due to some differences that occurred between us regarding matters of Shariah and matters of strategy." He offers no further explanation.

According to a comprehensive investigation by the New York Times Magazine, Hammami, 27, was born in Alabama to a Syrian immigrant father and native Alabaman mother. He was brought up a Christian but later converted to Islam becoming more radical after the September 11th attacks. He went to Somalia to join Al Shabaab in 2006.

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