EU bolsters powers against Somali pirates, imposes sanctions on Assads

Sat, Mar 24, 2012, 00:00

EUROPEAN FOREIGN ministers have resolved to expand the mandate of the EU’s anti-piracy mission off the Somali coast, giving the force powers to attack installations on the coast itself.

The move came as the ministers imposed sanctions on the luxury-loving wife of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, penalties widely described as an attempt to stop her using her credit card in Harrods of London.

An extension of the EU’s Atalanta mission off Somalia means the military force will continue its work until the end of 2014 at a cost of €14.9 million.

“Fighting piracy and its root causes is a priority of our action in the Horn of Africa,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “Today’s important decision extends Atalanta’s mandate for two more years and allows it to take more robust action on the Somali coast.” The force previously had powers to attack pirates at sea from its own warships.

The latest decision expands the mission’s area of operations to include the Somali “coastal territory” as well as its territorial and internal waters and gives it powers to attack from the sea or air.

A European diplomat briefed on the ministers’ meeting in Brussels yesterday said they specifically resolved that the EU mission would not enter Somali territory itself. “We will never put boots on the ground,” the diplomat said.

Rather, the objective was to give the mission the powers to attack makeshift “logistical facilities” the pirates use on Somali beaches.

The Somali operation has been in place since 2008. In a European military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008 and 2009, the EU force had the right to use force to protect the civilian population.

In Syria, Dr Assad was first targeted with EU sanctions last May. The latest penalties target his British-born wife, Asma, perceived as a glamorous figure before the Assads became international pariahs, along with Dr Assad’s mother and sister. The shopping habits of the former banker were disclosed in a secret cache of hacked emails which showed how she and her husband apparently bought music online and luxury goods as the regime stepped up violence against the rebels.

“His objective clearly is to repeat what his father did. It is to use muscle power and the firepower of his army to quell the opposition against him,” said Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore. “The difference is, it is 30 years later. This is a different world, communications are different. People 30 years ago weren’t able to send out video pictures of what was happening on their mobile phones.”