More countries must help Kenya to prosecute Somali pirates, a top U.N. official said Tuesday, amid concerns that Kenya could be used as a dumping ground for the sea bandits who target ships for millions of dollars in ransoms.
The secretary-general's special adviser on piracy law, Jack Lang, said Kenya's concerns are understandable and it may want to renegotiate its agreements to take pirate suspects. The country currently has some 136 pirates among its 53,000 prison inmates.
"Kenya is taking a big part of the burden," said Lang, a French national. "We can't ask just a few countries like Kenya to detain pirates for many years after conviction."
Kenya said last month that agreements with Britain, the U.S. and EU to prosecute suspected pirates had lapsed. The East African nation also had agreements with Canada, China and Denmark.
Still, Lang stressed that Kenya has received a lot of support from donors. The country received a $4 million program to upgrade its criminal justice system in return for the agreements, but some analysts believe Kenya is angling for more money.
Kenya took nine suspected pirates from an American warship on Tuesday and four from a Spanish warship last week.
Lang said one possible solution might be for pirates to be returned to Somalia to serve jail sentences. Somalia is a failed state that has not had a functioning government for 20 years, but the semiautonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland, which declared itself independent, have both jailed pirates.
On Tuesday, a clan elder in Puntland said pirates had kidnapped a government minister who ventured into their territory.
Abdi Said says he expects that the fisheries minister of the regional Puntland government will be released soon. He says the pirates holding Said Mohamed Rage told him they ambushed the minister Monday because they thought he wanted to kick them out of their dens.
Puntland's Deputy Interior Minister Ali Yusuf Hosh told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Rage is being held in a hotel in a coastal village. Hosh said that during the ambush a soldier guarding the minister was killed and a civilian wounded.
Puntland is a relatively violence-free part of Somalia. In recent years, however, pirates have operated freely along part of its coastline.
Somali pirates currently hold 18 ships and nearly 400 crew members after capturing a Japanese ship on Sunday.
Associated Press writer Malkhadir M. Muhumed contributed to this report.