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Somalia fears growing violence

MOGADISHU, Jan 20 – Once a quiet Somali fishing town, Harardhere has earned the dubious title of piracy capital of the world and its residents now fear their village is too small for its ruthless guests and their money.

Like any gold rush town sitting on a rich vein, Harardhere has seen the arrival of a gaggle of armed, highly competitive "entrepreneurs" who have started buccaneering careers and are willing to die for a big ransom.

Residents and pirates alike fear that the delivery of an estimated seven million dollars in cash for the release of a Greek supertanker, which could fit the whole of Harardhere on its deck, has now brought the town to the brink.

The largest ransom ever paid out to Somalia\’s sea-bandits touched off a cycle of raids and revenge killings that has already left seven people dead since Sunday, including a civilian.

The fighting had stopped by Wednesday but tension was still running high among Harardhere\’s once united pirate fraternity.

"We asked the pirates to cease fire and so far it\’s holding. But the problem is that trust has been shattered. Suspicion is rife and growing among the pirates now and we expect another disaster," Yusuf Moalim Ali, a local elder who tried to mediate for an end to the violence, told AFP.

Rival gangs from the Saleban sub-clan on Monday rode through the streets in Toyota Surfs — a pirate favourite — wielding machine guns.

"We had been expecting things to turn ugly in our town, we had it coming. These boys are accustomed to easy money but when you enter a mafia you know you\’ll end up killing or being killed," said Mohamed Sandhere, another elder.

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The pirates themselves seemed to admit that the problem risked spiralling out of control, explaining the issue with this paradox: too much ransom money gets in the way of piracy.

"My group did not directly take part in the fighting but we are severely affected by the clashes, we cannot go about our usual business," said pirate Abdi Yare.

Somalia\’s pirates treat every successful hijacking like a private venture in which businessmen from all over the country can invest by offering financial or material assistance, buying and selling shares.

The bigger the captured vessel, the more complex the shareholder structure, but the size of the share handed to every pirate follows a strict scale, from the first man to board the hijacked ship down to the last onshore sentinel.

Some pirates argue that internal rules were broken when a small plane dropped the bumper ransom for the Maran Centaurus, a supertanker a third of a kilometre long and laden with two million barrels of crude oil for America.

"This big ransom was unfairly divided," said a pirate who gave his name as Ilkacase. "I lost two of my friends on Monday. Today all the pirates are staying on base and nobody is going out to sea."

While pirates have been known to redistribute part of their share to friends and locals, residents have long complained that the modern-day buccaneers have brought inflation, alcohol and prostitution to the region.

Today, Harardhere\’s unnatural growth has reached its breaking point, residents warned.

"Many people think the pirates brought booming business to this town but I believe one day everything will come to an abrupt end," said Muktar Nur, a native of Harardhere.

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"They have started fighting between themselves and the next time that happens, everyone will flee because you cannot take any chances when you see the kind of weapons they have," he explained.

Asha Muse has profited from the presence of Harardhere\’s boisterous corsairs and their newly-acquired cash, selling them khat, a mild narcotic leaf popular with Somali men and indispensable to most pirates.

"Those pirates are armed and scary. The situation will be untenable one day and I can see Harardhere becoming a ghost town," she said.

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