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U.S. seeks wider net on pirates

It wants the U.N. to authorize a broader reach against Somalis.

UNITED NATIONS - As Somalia's government crumbles, the United States is proposing that the United Nations authorize tracking down Somalian pirates not only at sea but also on land and in Somalian airspace.

The United States is circulating the draft Security Council resolution as one of the Bush administration's last major foreign-policy initiatives. The resolution proposes that all nations and regional groups cooperating with Somalia's U.N.-backed government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery "may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia."

But Somalia's struggling government may need even more propping up.

The council's group that monitors Somalia reported yesterday that more than 15,000 soldiers and police - representing 80 percent of the government's security capabilities - have deserted the government and fled with their vehicles, weapons and ammunition.

Since May there has been a steady disintegration of Somalia's government, which earmarks 70 percent of its budget for security but spends little for that purpose because of corruption, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told the council.

Piracy is booming, with 1,500 pirates based in the semiautonomous Puntland region raking in millions of dollars, with armed opposition groups getting much of their funding from charities, the Internet and trades, he said.

Somalia's government welcomed the U.S. initiative. Spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said yesterday the government would offer any help it could.

If the U.S. military gets involved, it would mark a dramatic turnabout from the U.S. experience in Somalia in 1992-93 that culminated in a deadly military clash in Mogadishu followed by a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

A small number of U.S. Navy ships already are involved in patrolling the waters off Somalia. A senior administration official in Washington said yesterday that while the proposal would give the U.S. military more options in confronting the pirates, it does not mean the United States is planning a ground assault.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the resolution would simply provide the possibility of taking action ashore, including from Somalia's airspace, in the event of timely intelligence on the pirates' whereabouts. The official said it should not be assumed that such action would necessarily involve U.S. forces.

Without committing more U.S. Navy ships, the Bush administration wants to tap into what officials see as a growing enthusiasm in Europe and elsewhere for more effective coordinated action against the Somalian pirates.

The U.S. resolution is to be presented at a session on Somalia on Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It proposes that for a year nations "may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including in its airspace, to interdict those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea and to otherwise prevent those activities."