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Piracy in the region
No pirate groups were seen operating in Beyla during my visit, and local sources told me that pirates aren’t welcome in the district of Beyla, but operate sometimes from surrounding villages. Although the pirates have attempted to enter Beyla in the past, they were not able to establish bases due to the Puntland Security Forces who have been operating there for the past year. A number of pirates were arrested during anti-piracy operations by the Security Forces during the 2008-2010 and now they are now held with other pirate prisoners in Bosaso's largest jail.
Since April 2011, the locals of Beyla have been fighting against the pirates and established an anti-piracy committee with 21 members including elders, youth and womens' organization, as well as officials from the local government. That committee succeeded in establishing an anti-piracy policy for the local community, which made it possible for the district to be safe from piracy. Youth in Beyla have taken an excellent role in defending their district from the pirates, as the majority of them are fishermen and know more about the sea, and they haven’t allowed the pirates to establish themselves in the region.
The mayor, Sa’id Adam Ali Antenna who served as my guide, told me that a number of local youth had become jobless after their fishing boats were broken by the pirates. Several pirates had been refused entrance to the district by the youth. Local elders have praised the role of those youth who are involved in the war against the pirates.
One local youth, Ahmed Salah, told me that ransom money is the biggest attraction causing the new generation to join with the pirate groups, the idea of receiving millions of US dollars within days or months seduces local youth to the pirates. There are youths who joined the pirates for that reason, but many quickly abandoned piracy after surviving NATO's anti-piracy actions. He told me that some of his friends died on piracy missions and that others are now in jail in Bosaso due to piracy.
Local Fishing Problems
Fishing is the main source of livelihood in Beyla, and hundreds of fishing boats owned by local families operate from the coast of Beyla into the districts of Bargal, Alula, Hafun, Eyl, Lasqorey and other areas along the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Problems common to the region also impact the livelihood and local business in the district. Residents complained to me that pirates have damaged their fishing and that is why locals have united to protest against the pirates to preserve their livelihood.
Mayor Sa’id Aden Ali told me Somali pirates attack the fishermen at sea and destroy skiffs and that a number of local fishermen have been shot at sea by pirates who were stealing their fishing boats. In addition, pirates have brought the NATO war ships into the district, which has created fear for the fishermen as sometimes legitimate fishermen are mistakenly identified as pirates.
Illegal fishing vessels which are fishing in Somali waters without license and the mayor believes these encourage local fishermen to join the pirates to try and stop the trawlers. The mayor called on the Puntland government to make efforts to keep out these illegal vessels and preserve local fishing into the future. The mayor told me that some of those illegal vessels come near the coast where people can see them, and that surprisingly there are some Somali crew members are on those illegal fishing boats.
“One time, the local community in Beyla attempted to stop one of those illegal vessels which came near the coast. A number of local youth took out three boats with guns to defend their fishing from the illegal fishing vessels, which then opened fire on the youth. They used a megaphone to warn people away, and we heard someone speaking in the Somali language. We don’t understand why the illegal vessels are armed and why Somalis are on those vessels,” the mayor said.
Fishermen say that fishing is lower than in recent years, and the reason is believed to be the increase in illegal fishing. Local fishing boats now catch less than 1 kilogram of fish everyday, while three years before they were landing 5-10 kilograms of fish a day. The lack of fish has made fish expensive, and more people are eating camel meat instead of fish.
Beyla still remembers the damage from the tsunami in 2004
Hundred of local families lost their houses in the tsunami in 2004, and have been unable to rebuild their homes due to a lack of funds. During my visit to Beyla, I counted wreckage of more than 60 fishing boats which were destroyed by the tsunami.
The district of Beyla has received some support from international NGOs and UN agencies to recover damages from the tsunami, and locals said they have been given new fishing boats, although they are still waiting on some projects which are promised by the international NGOs, such as the rebuilding of houses and development of local fishing.
Interview with the Mayor
Sa’id Adam Ali Antenna has been the mayor of the district of Bander-Beyla for the last three years. He lived in Australia amongst the Puntland diaspora community there. He is from the Osman Mohamod subclan of the Majerten clan, which resides in the Beyla district. As mayor, the local community believes him to be active and fair, with his major successes considered to be fighting against piracy, resolving local clan violence, working with local community organizations and co-operating with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies on local development projects.
SR: Could you give us some background on Beyla, and what is happening?
Bander Beyla is a strategic district in Puntland. Along with other districts along the coast of the Indian Ocean, it houses many different Somali clans, but it doesn’t have a lot of business and environmental progress, so as the local government of Beyla, we have created local projects about the development of the district and community awareness. We have already began one of those projects, which is named ‘First Beyla.’ We received support from some International NGOs and some UN agencies such as IOM, Save the Children, USAID, DIA, UNICEF and UNDP. Some already offered their support while others are under process with respect to their projects in Beyla. However, I can say that Beyla is experiencing the best time in recent history, because the community in Beyla has co-operated towards peace and fought against piracy.
It is believed that pirate groups are still operating around Beyla. Some sources say pirate gangs are still in the district, so what do you know about those accusations?
That is totally propaganda. No pirate groups operate from Beyla. They are unable to come into the district, because both the residents and the government have refused the pirates a base in the district. We also forced them to move out from Beyla, so I don’t know where you received that fictitious report from. The other important factor is that we have the Beyla Marine Forces which were established two years before by our local government and local community. The Beyla Marine uses the fishing boats to patrol the coast around the district and numerous times we have succeeded in arresting some pirates who were transferred to the big jail in Bosaso.
It is possible that pirates enter the district as individuals, but they aren’t armed and cannot engage in piracy or plan missions inside of the district. We are fighting against piracy, but we can’t stop those youth involved in piracy from seeing their families in the district, because they are citizens and when they enter the district they claim that they aren’t involved in piracy.
As mayor of the district, why haven’t you sought support from the Puntland government or added capacity for the war against piracy?
That is a good question and let me explain to you why. I have informed the Puntland government about the needs of the district, and the Puntland government has a plan for those needs, including the anti-piracy operations, and we are waiting it. Government officials have arrived and observed the district of Beyla numerous times and seen the conditions of the district. In April 2012, a delegation led by Puntland Security Minister Colonel Khalif Ise Mudan came to Beyla and met with the local community and local government officials. We deeply discussed the main needs of Beyla, at that time the minister promised us that the Puntland government will support us and open a police station with security forces to support anti-piracy operations along the nearby coastal areas. The Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) will be brought to Beyla to hunt the pirates and support development projects in the district, such as local police trainees, who are selected from the local youth residents, as well as construction, education and health projects. We are still looking forward to all of those commitments being fulfilled.
As mayor of Beyla, do you believe that the PMPF is important for the security of the district? How can the local community co-operate with the PMPF?
It is clear. As the administration of Beyla, the community have demanded the government of Puntland send us the Marine Force. I discussed that issue with Puntland President Abdi Rahman Farole and the Minister of Security. We have been waiting for the PMPF for a long time, since we live in the coastal villages which have most been affected by piracy operations. On the other hand, I would like you to understand that Beyla is a strategic district in Puntland, and the PMPF is a Puntland Force. That means there is no difference in their role and they will be welcomed as well as beneficial in Beyla whenever they come in.
The village of Hul-Anod is a part of Beyla, and local sources say that in recent months it has become a pirate base. Can you say more about that?
Yes, some of that is true, the village of Hul-Anod is where armed pirates attacked Puntland Security Forces and killed 7 of them last year. It was becoming a pirate stronghold, and we were unable to confront them on our own, so pirates seized the opportunity to anchor different hijacked ships and vessels. The local residents of that village fled from Hul Anod earlier this year, so I can say now that no families are remaining now in that village.
Pirates can’t remain in Hul-Anod during the monsoon season, due to the waves. During that season they usually move to Rasubina village, which is near the district of Bargal, because they need a place where they can shelter from the waves while they are holding hijacked vessels or ships, and waiting for ransom money.
Have you seen any boats with al-Shabaab militants along the coast or around the district?
No! No! We have never seen them and there are no events related with al-Shabaab group around Beyla district. Beyla is not a place where they can hide themselves, because it is a small district where all the community living here know each other.
What future projects are planned for the development of the district?
Here you can see the old Beyla police station and the next building is the former prison. Both were destroyed and we have contacted the UN agencies and international NGOs to support us in the rebuilding of those sites. Recently we received responses and commitments from the UNDP and USAID, and officials from both agencies came to the district a month ago. They respect our needs and told us that they will engage in construction projects as soon as possible. These projects include:
- Building a youth center
- Building a local womens' center
- Developing local fishing and creating marketing
- Building a new coastal road between Beyla and Eyl districts
- Rebuilding of the police station and prison
- Funding of local community organizations