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21 April 2009 - "Piracy : why France is helping Somalia?" by Bernard Kouchner

Article by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, published in the "Le Figaro" newspaper

Somalia, who had been sliding into even greater chaos, in media silence, is back on the international agenda. But the tragic events of the past few weeks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean must not close our eyes to the overall objective of our action in that country.

When I arrived at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, World Food Programme (WFP) convoys had already for some time been falling victim to acts of piracy off the Somali coast. Back in summer 2007, my colleague Hervé Morin and I decided that the French Navy would escort them, and in September 2007 at the United Nations General Assembly President Sarkozy announced the launch of Operation Alcyon. We then went to work on consolidating the legal framework for fighting piracy by getting several important resolutions passed at the Security Council. Finally, thanks to the French European Union presidency, we launched in partnership with Spain the first European maritime operation under the European Security and Defence Policy - "Atalante" - to provide security for European ships passing through the Gulf of Aden.

This operation has achieved many successes. No vessel protected by "Atalante" has been attacked. Our determination is still as strong as ever, as our operations to release our hostages have shown. France has arrested over 70 pirates and those who attacked our compatriots have been brought back to France for trial. Of course, piracy hasn’t disappeared. We can even see that it has now spread to the Seychelles archipelago, whose economy might not be able to recover from this scourge and who is appealing to us for help. But to fight this evil, we can’t just confine ourselves to naval action.

In Somalia, piracy is first and foremost the symptom of the failure of the rule of law which has been sapping the country’s strength since 1991. Abandoned to the warlords and now divided into three autonomous entities, Somalia can no longer ensure her security either on land or at sea. Helping the Somalis to rebuild a State: this is the second prong of our action.

Over the past few months, we have encouraged dialogue between the different rival factions. January’s election of a moderate Islamist president confirmed the pertinence of our analysis: for over a year, we had been seeking to persuade our Western partners that Sheikh Sharif was the only leader capable of rallying a consensus to support him. Today, for the first time since 1991, a national unity government leads Somalia, bringing promise of hope and stability. This, I hope, should encourage people to stop looking at Somalia solely through the prism of the fight against al-Qaida. Of course, we aren’t naive: Western hostages are still being taken and the government has just adopted sharia law. While providing support for the consolidation of the State, we will never, ever compromise when it comes to respect for human rights - and the rights of women.

We will also be contributing to training Somali security forces, through our troops stationed in Djibouti. Giving Somalis back control of their security: this is the whole purpose of the meeting the United Nations Secretary-General has organized this Thursday in Brussels. At stake are not only the fight against piracy and terrorism, but also the stability of the whole of Eastern Africa and reduction of the still growing migration flows, with dozens of refugees drowning every day in the Gulf of Aden, out of sight and sound.

What we are doing every day on the ground is dictated by a longer-term strategy addressing two imperatives. First of all, more Defence Europe. After EUFOR Chad/CAR, "Atalante" is a decisive step forward. I hope our European partners come in with us on the effort to train the Somali forces.

Secondly, more Africa: Somali has on her territory the only exclusively African Union-led military operation, AMISOM (African Mission in Somalia). We have helped train its troops, who come from Uganda and Burundi. And we are going to continue doing so, since that country will not have security in the future unless there is regional ownership of the means to ensure it.

This picture of our action in Somalia gives me the opportunity to remind detractors of France’s Africa policy how much our approach has changed in the past two years. France is now actively working on a political issue in which she was previously uninvolved. She is using the asset of her military presence in Djibouti and, with her partners, is engaged in finding solutions. And she is being heeded./.

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