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At last, a court to try Somali pirates

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There had been concerns over busing suspected pirates daily to and from the main courtroom in Mombasa, which does not have a secure dock and which is swamped with nonpiracy cases. There, witnesses, lawyers, and the public milled around, raising further worries about security. With the court now on the grounds of the prison holding the suspects, concerns have been eased, Mr. Cole says.

Kenya is holding the highest number of piracy suspects in the region, with 105 on trial and 18 already convicted, with sentences ranging from seven to 20 years. Other Somali pirate suspects are being tried or held in the US, Germany, Spain, and France. In the Netherlands last month, five Somalis were sentenced to five years each in the first convictions of Horn of Africa pirates in Europe.

Puntland (the breakaway enclave north of Somalia), the Seychelles, and the Maldives hold others. But how Mombasa became the de facto headquarters of modern world piracy trials is unclear and open to legal question, critics say.

As attacks by the seaborne buccaneers soared in 2009, Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding with the US and Britain, and undertook an informal agreement with the EU, to prosecute pirates arrested in the waters off its anarchic neighbor. Before this, the legal framework was opaque, drawing partly on jurisprudence from the Barbary Wars off North Africa 200 years ago.

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