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French Troops Seize Somali Pirates After Hostages Are Freed
Garowe, Somalia, April 11, 2008 – Helicopter-borne French troops swooped on Somali pirates Friday after they released 30 hostages from a yacht, capturing 6 of the pirates and recovering sacks of money - apparently ransom paid by the yacht's owners to win the crew's release.
Witnesses said the helicopters fired rockets at the pirates. But French officials, while confirming that troops had fired on a vehicle with pirates on board, said they had not shot at people, had not fired any missiles and had not killed anyone.
The district commissioner of Garaad, where the attack took place, said the helicopters landed and troops jumped out to grab members of a group of 14 pirates who had just come ashore where three pickup trucks with heavy weapons were waiting.
"Local residents came out to see the helicopters on the ground," Commissioner Abdiaziz Olu-Yusuf Muhammad said by telephone. "The helicopters took off and fired rockets on the vehicles and the residents there, killing five local people."
In Paris, French officials said that the operation was conducted with minimal use of force for fear of causing collateral damage.
They said a Gazelle helicopter with a sniper on board and a Panther helicopter with three commandos on board were involved in the incident. In addition, two missile-armed Gazelle helicopters stood by in support but did not intervene.
They said the only shot fired was by the sniper to disable the engine of a vehicle containing the pirates.
"No shots were fired directly at the pirates," Jean-Louis Georgelin, chief of the armed forces general staff, told a news conference.
The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy said the pirates were being held on a French Navy vessel.
Georgelin said no public money was used to pay a ransom. But he hinted heavily that the boat's owners did hand over money, and that some of the ransom was recovered when the pirates were caught. The general said French troops had recovered "interesting bags."
France sent an elite commando force to the East African region after pirates seized the boat, Le Ponant, in the Gulf of Aden on April 4. It carried no passengers but 30 crew members, 22 of them French.
Georgelin said that the pirates seemed to be Somali fishermen and that there were about a dozen in total. The six captured pirates will be handed over to French judicial authorities, he said. They "gave themselves up without too much difficulty," he added.
The French government had announced the release of the 30 hostages earlier Friday.
Sarkozy, in a statement announcing the release, thanked the French Army and other agencies "that allowed a quick end" to the hostage-taking.
Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos of the Philippines said in Manila that the French Foreign Ministry informed the Philippine Embassy in Paris that the hostages, including six Filipino crew members, had been taken to a French military base in Djibouti and would be flown to Paris in "two to three days."
"All of them are safe and sound," he said, adding that the yacht also "was turned over safe."
Source: Reuters, The Associated Press