Mogadishu - Somalia's president has offered an amnesty to
young pirates in a bid to end attacks off the Horn of Africa nation's coast as
he seeks to rebuild the war-torn country, he told AFP.
"We have been negotiating with the pirates indirectly
through the elders," said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. "Piracy
has to end."
Mohamud, elected by lawmakers six months ago, said that he
wanted to offer an "alternative means of earning a living" to young
Somalis who have taken up the gun to join pirate gangs.
However, Mohamud said that the amnesty was not open to
pirate kingpins - those who take the vast majority of the profits from the
attacks - some of whom are wanted by Interpol.
"We are not giving them amnesty, the amnesty is for the
boys," he said, speaking on Wednesday in an interview at Villa Somalia,
the Italian colonial art-deco palace in war-ravaged capital Mogadishu.
Somalia has been battered by conflict since 1991 but a new
UN-backed government took power in September, ending eight years of
transitional rule by a corruption-riddled administration.
Large parts of the country have been carved up by rival
militias who have developed autonomous regions that pay little, if any, heed to
the weak central government.
Many of the most notorious pirates, who launched attacks far
across the Indian Ocean earning millions of dollars in international ransoms,
are based along the northern coastline of the semi-autonomous Puntland region.
The amnesty comes amid a sharp drop in the number of pirate
attacks in Somalia, which are at a three-year low, thanks to beefed up naval
patrols and teams of armed security guards aboard ships in the Gulf of Aden and
the Indian Ocean.
However, while the pirates have lost ground, the International
Maritime Bureau (IMB) still warns that Somalia's waters remain extremely