Somali rebels seize pirate haven

2010-05-02 20:11

Mogadishu - Somali insurgent group Hizb al-Islam took control of the pirate haven of Haradheere on Sunday and wants to get involved in the lucrative trade, pirates and residents said.

Pirates said Hizb al-Islam sent agents to the coastal town demanding a slice of the business. The pirates said they refused and the insurgent group entered Haradheere in armed trucks without a fight.

"They have entered the town now. Their fighters are in every street," resident Mohamed Hussein told Reuters. "They came with 14 battle wagons. Many pirates fled with cars from the town."

Haradheere, and Hobyo further up the coast, are two of the main bases for pirates operating out of Somalia. The gunmen have made tens of millions of dollars by hijacking merchant vessels, bringing them to the coast and demanding ransoms.

Rebels turn to piracy

So far, neither Hizb al-Islam nor al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab rebels have been directly involved in piracy, a business that has flourished in the absence of strong government and any rule of law in the Horn of Africa nation.

"They came into the town, they want to have their own pirates in here and oust us," said a pirate called Hassan, who was fleeing the town, told Reuters.

"Some of their agents came to us two days ago and asked us to work with them and pay. We rejected this and they entered today," he said.

Residents said they feared Hizb al-Islam wanted to get a grip on the piracy trade to help fund its fight against the government in the capital Mogadishu.

Hizb al-Islam and al-Shabaab have been fighting to topple the Western-backed government since the start of 2007. More than 21 000 civilians have been killed in the failed state since the start of the insurgency.

There was no immediate comment from Hizb al-Islam.