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Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 17:42 UK

Arrests in 'pirate-hostage swap'

Suspected Somali pirates captured near the Seychelles in May
This is thought to be the first exchange of captured pirates for hostages

Regional authorities in Somalia have impounded two aircraft used to repatriate 23 suspected pirates captured in waters off the Seychelles.

It is believed the Somalis were released in Puntland in exchange for three Seychellois sailors being held hostage in Somalia by other pirates.

A Puntland official said 10 people on board the planes were being detained.

They included the three freed hostages and two mediators - one from the UK and the other from Kenya, he told the BBC.

The fate of the pirates is unclear, but there are reports that they were met by armed men, who vanished with them into the bush.

The authorities in the Seychelles said they had no choice but to repatriate the suspected pirates because there was insufficient evidence to try them.

It is believed to be the first instance of hostages - usually released after the payment of large ransoms - being swapped for captured pirates.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government since 1991, allowing pirates to operate in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

'Illegal'

Shortly after the three former hostages were freed, they found themselves in captivity again.

Map

Only this time they were not being held by pirates, but by the authorities in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in north-eastern Somalia where piracy has thrived.

"We have arrested 10 people. Five of them are crew. Three of them are the former hostages from the Seychelles who were released in exchange for the pirates," Puntland's deputy interior minister told the BBC Somali Service.

"And two of them claim to be security men - but they are really mediators. One is British, and the other is Kenyan," Yusuf Ahmed Khayr continued.

He said the men aboard the planes would be charged with a number of offences, as the 23 pirates had been brought to Puntland illegally and had been deposited in a place that had no legal landing strip.

"No planes are allowed to land in Gara'ad. Only the mafia would land there," he said.

Then they had flown on to the town of Galkayo for refuelling, but had not sought permission to land there either, he said.

Two dozen ships from European Union nations, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, patrol the waters off Somalia - an area of about two million square miles.

Although the international naval forces have stepped up patrols in the Gulf of Aden this year, relatively few of the pirates detained have faced trial because of the legal complexities involved.



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