France rejects appeal by suspected Somali pirates

PARIS Mon Apr 6, 2009 6:31pm BST

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PARIS (Reuters) - Six suspected Somali pirates captured by French troops in Somalia last year lost an appeal on Monday in which they argued that their arrest and transfer to France were unauthorised, a court source said.

As navies from around the world rush to protect ships off the coast of lawless Somalia from a wave of attacks, governments and courts try to decide what to do with captured pirates -- whose crime carries the death penalty in their own country.

The six men are accused of attacking a French yacht and holding its 30 crew hostage for a week last April. They have been placed under investigation for hijacking a ship, organised robbery, kidnapping and forming a criminal association.

They argued that they had been arrested and transferred without the proper judicial steps or authorisation by the Somali state.

The court ruled that their arrest was justified and described it as a "defence operation." If found guilty, the pirates could face a life sentence.

In October last year, French forces captured nine suspected pirates at sea and handed them over to Somali security forces because the operation did not involve any French victims.

The fractured Somali government has said it does not have the resources to tackle the problem of piracy. The Horn of Africa nation has been in virtual anarchy since military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Germany has called for an international court to be set up to prosecute the pirates, while the United States signed an accord with Kenya on putting suspects on trial there.

The six men told French investigators they were part of a "sea militia" with a written code of conduct that banned mistreatment of hostages, notably sexual abuse.

The men were seized by French troops in the Somali desert after fleeing with part of the $2 million (1.4 million pounds) ransom.

(Reporting by Thierry Leveque, writing by Sophie Hardach, editing by Tim Pearce)

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