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Pirates help fund Somali warlords

Gunmen hijacked four ship within 48 hours last week. Cash retrieved from ransoms is paying for weapons and salaries of fighters on both sides of Somalia's conflict.

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Most are eventually released for a ransom that can be anything up to $1 million.

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Mr. Mwangura says the trade is becoming increasingly attractive in a country with few other options for young men.

Three years ago, he adds, there were no more than about 100 pirates. Today, he reckons the number is more than 1,000.

"There have been a lot of gunmen joining the pirate gangs. They are making good business and it is an attractive choice for many young men at the moment," he said.

There have been few successes in the fight against piracy.

In April, French commandos captured a gang of pirates, but only after a ransom had been paid to free a yacht crew.

In June, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to allow warships to chase hijacked vessels into Somalia's territorial waters in order to stem the threat to shipping.

On land, fighting rages

The surge in hijackings comes at the same time as a spike in fighting, the worst since the collapse of Siad Barre's government in 1991.

Last week, gunmen from the Islamist Al Shabaab youth movement seized the southern port city of Kismayo after a three-day battle that left 100 people dead, according to a United Nations estimate.

At the same time, insurgents launched an audacious mortar attack on the presidential palace in Mogadishu.

Aid staff and journalists have been targeted.

So far 28 humanitarian workers have been killed since January.

Diplomatic officials from Nairobi are now desperately trying to make contact with gunmen believed to be holding the two Western journalists abducted on Saturday.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian reporter freelancing for French television and Canada's Global National News, and Nigel Brennan, a freelance Australian photojournalist.

This all comes days after the Transitional Federal Government signed a peace deal with the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, which represents one faction of the Islamist movement.

The deal called for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, which prop up the government – and the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers.

Rashid Abdi Sheikh, Horn of Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group, says both parties were weakened by internal divisions and had little control over armed groups on the ground.

"They signed the deal but they have no way of delivering on it," he says. "On the ground the insurgents, the radical groups that are on the march, are sending a clear message that the parties in Djibouti can sign anything they want but it is they that the international community will eventually have to deal with."