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Suspected pirates flown to Paris to face charges

Latest update : 2008-04-16

The six suspected pirates captured by French commandos have arrived in Paris, where they are likely to stand trial for kidnapping a yacht crew off the Somali coast. Meanwhile, French Defence Minister Hervé Morin (photo) is visiting the region.

Six suspected pirates captured by French special forces after the release of a yacht crew kidnapped off Somalia arrived in Paris Wednesday where justice officials hope to put them on trial.

The six were captured Friday after the release of the 30 hostages -- 22 French, six Filipinos, a Cameroonian and a Ukrainian -- abducted a week earlier aboard the French luxury yacht Le Ponant.

The suspects, believed to be Somali fishermen, arrived on board a military transport plane at dawn at Le Bourget airport and were taken to a detention centre in the French capital.

French authorities have said they hope to put the six suspects on trial on charges of "organised criminality" for hijacking the yacht and taking hostages with the intention of securing a ransom. The men face life in prison.

But the possibility of them being tried in France is expected to cause a "number of problems," a source close to the case told AFP. The yacht was boarded in international waters, taken to Somalia's territorial waters and the kidnappers later captured on Somali soil.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin however insisted Wednesday that France had "respected all the legal rights linked to the transfer of the pirates to France."

He added that "the legal status of the pirates is clear given the accord of Somali authorities."

But a foreign ministry spokeswoman in Paris, asked if Somalia had given its formal accord for the men to taken to France, replied: "Not to my knowledge, but talks with the Somali authorities are continuing."

Morin was speaking in the east African state of Djibouti, where he had been present as the three-masted Ponant left Wednesday en route for the French Mediterranean port of Marseille.

French police on Tuesday began interviewing the original crew of the 32-cabin yacht, who say they were not mistreated during their week-long captivity.

Owned by French charter company CMA-CGM, Le Ponant was en route to the Mediterranean from the Seychelles when pirates boarded the vessel on April 4.

The crew "used the fire hoses to try and repel the assault," skipper Patrick Marchesseau has said, but the pirates "arrived very quickly" and started firing before storming the vessel.

The pirates then anchored the vessel off Puntland, a breakaway northern region of Somalia, while a French navy ship waited nearby as negotiations with the pirates took place.

After a week, the hostages were released when a ransom believed to be around two million dollars (1.3 million euros) was paid.

But shortly after their release French special forces arrested six of the suspected hostage-takers as they tried to escape in a 4x4 vehicle, having gone ashore after releasing the crew members.

The French troops also recovered what appeared to be part of the ransom sum.

Somali officials said three people were killed when French helicopters carried out the raid on the pirates but the military in Paris denied any pirates were killed.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon last week called on the UN to launch an "international initiative" to protect maritime shipping in areas where piracy is on the rise, such as off Somalia.

Defence Minister Morin warned last week that the military action to catch the pirates in Somalia showed that Paris would not tolerate extortion attempts.

"This is the first time a country has decided not to let itself be extorted, but also to take matters into its own hands," he said, praising French special forces for apprehending the hostage-takers.

Date created : 2008-04-16