Briton linked to hostage deal with Somali pirates is arrested

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The Independent Online

A Briton is facing trial in Somalia after being caught up in an exchange of hostages and pirates between the Horn of Africa and the Seychelles.

The Briton, whose name has not been released, has been described by authorities in Puntland region as a "facilitator" in a plan to hand a party of arrested Somali pirates back to their gang in return for the release of three sailors from the Seychelles.

The arrested man and a Kenyan citizen are believed to be security contractors who had accompanied 23 suspected pirates who had been handed over to Seychelles authorities earlier this year.

With Somalia gripped by a civil war and pirate gangs demanding million-dollar ransoms, an increasing number of private security firms are working in the region.

The pirates were transported to Somalia on a clandestine flight on board two planes last Sunday.

Ahmed Ali Salad, governor of Mudug region in the semiautonomous region of Puntland, said the pilots told authorities they were carrying humanitarian goods.

This is disputed by authorities in the Seychelles, who have denied any involvement in illegal prisoner swaps. Joel Morgan, the small nation's minister in charge of piracy, denied any deal was struck, saying the men were released due to a lack of evidence.

Governor Salad painted a different picture. "We sent the police force but by the time they arrived the planes were already in the air, so you can imagine how well-organised the plan was," he said.

The police caught up with the planes at a refuelling stop on Sunday, arresting everyone on board.

The three sailors, who have been held by pirates since being taken hostage last February, have been handed over to the International Red Cross and are expected to be sent home.

The fate of the Briton and Kenyan will be decided by a Puntland court in the coming days.

The Seychelles, which relies on international fishing licences to support its economy, would be seriously compromised if it emerged that it was releasing pirates arrested on the archipelago for trial by international patrols.

At present it is one of only two countries, along with Kenya, where the international armada policing the Indian Ocean near Somalia can take suspected pirates for trial.

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