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    Russia rejects use of force to free Somali pirates' hostages

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    The Russian Navy said Wednesday that no force would be used against pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship off the Somali coast last week, a Navy spokesman said.

    MOSCOW, October 1 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Navy said Wednesday that no force would be used against pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship off the Somali coast last week, a Navy spokesman said.

    "The issues of releasing the ship and the crew will be resolved in line with international practice. The use of force is clearly an extreme measure as it could threaten the lives of the multinational crew," Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo told RIA Novosti.

    The pirates, who are demanding $20 million for the release of the ship, said earlier they would kill a hostage if an attempt was made to free the hostages by force. Among the hostages are three Russians, 17 Ukrainians and one Latvian.

    The ship's captain, Russian Vladimir Kolobkov, earlier died of a heart attack. Three pirates were killed in a shootout onboard, media reported, adding that none of the ship's crew was injured during the shootout.

    Russia sent the Neustrashimy (Fearless) warship to the region last Wednesday, but the Russian Navy said the decision had been made long before the seizure of the Faina.

    "The Russian Navy has repeatedly maintained that the goal for the Neustrashimy is to arrive in Somalia and protect Russian vessels for an indefinite period of time in areas dangerous for pirate attacks," Dygalo said.

    Earlier Wednesday, Somali Ambassador to Russia Mohamed Handule said his country's President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed had authorized Russia's military to fight pirates off Somalia's coast and on land.

    "This permission allows the warship to use the whole range of the weapons on board," a Navy official said. The Belize-registered Faina was carrying military equipment including 33 T-72 tanks, reportedly on their way to Kenya.

    Pirates are increasingly active in the waters off Somalia, which has no effective government and no navy to police its coastline. The International Maritime Bureau said more than 30 incidents of piracy were registered in the region in 2007. More than 30 attacks have been committed so far this year off the coast of the East African nation.

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