Wednesday, May 26, 2010

German ex-soldiers to work in Somalia

BERLIN (AP) — A private security firm's plan to deploy more than 100 German ex-soldiers to Somalia to work for a warlord has triggered intense media coverage and was harshly criticized by lawmakers on Tuesday, some of them calling it a possible violation of U.N. sanctions against the war-ridden East African country. 

Several lawmakers and special interest groups have criticized the deal, which has raised concerns over modern Germany's military role in the wider world. Although German law forbids foreign powers from recruiting its citizens, they are not barred from going abroad to serve as mercenaries in war zones.

Still, given Germany's aggressive military past in the 20th century, most Germans today prefer not to see their soldiers involved in any kind of armed conflict abroad — whether in a NATO-sanctioned mission in Afghanistan, where about 4,000 soldiers currently serve, or as mercenaries in foreign war zones.
Opposition lawmaker Omid Nouripour said his Green Party would also investigate whether the deployment of former Bundeswehr soldiers by Asgaard German Security Group violates U.N. sanctions against Somalia.
"What are we going to do if tomorrow another Somali war lord hires ex-soldiers — then we have Germans fighting each other in a foreign war zone," Nouripour told The Associated Press. "This is not the way one can solve the war in Somalia."
The head of the Bundeswehrverband, the German soldiers' interest group, called on the government to ban ex-soldiers from participating in armed conflict abroad.
"This is not OK. We're absolutely opposed ... and we don't like it at all that former German soldiers can be found doing this," Col. Ulrich Kirsch was quoting as saying by German news agency DAPD.
Asgaard German Security Group confirmed the deal with Abdinur Ahmed Darman and said the company would deploy the soldiers as soon as Darman had assumed control of state affairs and had been approved by the United Nations.
Darman claims to have been elected as a president in 2003. He lives abroad, has few followers in Somalia, and hardly visits there. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.
Private security companies have had less of an impact on the Somali conflict than in other African wars, mostly because of the fragmented nature of Somalia's civil war. However, private security companies were active in the semiautonomous region of Puntland in the late 1990's and early 2000's.
Somalia expert Roger Middleton from Chatham House says that many of them taught skills that were then transferred into piracy.
"There's nothing to guarantee that soldiers trained for one force will remain with that force," he warned. The Somali politician employing the company could swap sides in Somalia's civil war and the men trained by the Germans could desert to al-Qaida linked insurgents or become pirates, he said.
"It's another complicating factor in a very complicated conflict already," Middleton said.
Unless the company had gained an exemption, the training and importation of military equipment would be in violation of an international arms embargo imposed by the U.N. and could see the company slapped with sanctions. Its directors could also have their assets frozen.
As part of a joint-European Union mission, several German soldiers are currently training around 2,000 Somali soldiers in Uganda in mine awareness and urban combat, the German Defense Ministry said. 
Therefore, theoretically, German-trained Somali soldiers could in the near future fight German mercenaries in Somalia — an unsettling idea for many in Germany.
Germany's Foreign Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
German soldiers served in Somalia as part of a U.N.-led peace-mission from 1993 to 1994, but were pulled out, along with American troops, after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed.
Thomas Kaeltegaertner, the head of Asgaard, said the company would be in charge of providing security and protection for persons, buildings and convoys in Somalia as well as educating Somali security personnel.
He rejected lawmakers' concerns Tuesday and told the AP there was nothing illegal about his security firm providing jobs for former German soldiers.
"The soldiers are professional and have already collected experience in military missions abroad," Kaeltegaertner said. "The politicians should not complain that I'm providing work for unemployed soldiers."

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