Alarm at German private army

German legislators have voiced alarm at plans by a German firm to send more than 100 mercenaries to Somalia to assist a warlord opposed to the president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Somali soldiers will not, it now appears, have to tangle with private-sector German soldiers.
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Berlin // German legislators have voiced alarm at plans by a German firm to send more than 100 mercenaries to Somalia to assist a warlord opposed to the president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the head of the UN-backed transitional government. Asgaard German Security Group, the only private military contractor in Germany, said it had agreed to a contract with Abdinur Ahmed Darman, who claims to be the president of Somalia, to provide training and equipment for the police and the military, and security for the Somali government.

Asgaard, which employs former soldiers of the Bundeswehr, the German army, says it offers personal, building and convoy protection worldwide and currently has contracts in several locations, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Dubai, according to the company's website. Somalia has been in a civil war since the collapse of the military government in 1991, and rival clans and Islamist militia have been fighting each other for power ever since. Mr Darman declared himself president in 2003. Mr Ahmed, a moderate Islamist elected by Somali MPs in 2009, has western backing but he controls only parts of the capital, Mogadishu, while Islamist groups control much of the south of the country.

The German government said this week it would look into the contract after a television report about Asgaard's agreement led to a public outcry. Legislators said sending former German soldiers to Somalia would destabilise the country even further, undermine international peace efforts and embarrass Germany. Rainer Stinner, a foreign policy spokesman for the Free Democrat Party, which is part of the chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition government, said any agreement between Mr Darman, who was not the recognised president of Somalia, and Asgaard would be "a clear breach of the sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council".

The defence policy spokesman of the opposition Left Party, Paul Schäfer, said: "This development is worrying because it is a form of shadow foreign policy that is outside parliamentary control." Asgaard's statement announcing the deal in December had gone largely unnoticed. In it, the company referred to Mr Darman as the "President of the Republic of Somalia" and said the contract comprised "all necessary measures to reintroduce security and peace to Somalia".

Asgaard's plans sounded less ambitious last Wednesday. Its chief executive, Thomas Kaltegärtner, a former sergeant major in the Bundeswehr, said in an interview that the agreement would come into force only if Mr Darman was recognised by the UN as the legitimate president of Somalia. "In that case we will provide security consultancy, personal, building and convoy protection and security for Dr Darman and his government," Mr Kaltegärtner said. "If Dr Darman doesn't become president the contract will not come into force."

Mr Kaltegärtner refused to say how much the contract is worth. The state prosecutor's office in Münster said yesterday it had launched an investigation into whether Asgaard had acted illegally. Recruiting German citizens for military activities on behalf of a "foreign power" is illegal. "I'm not worried about the investigation because we haven't broken any laws," Mr Kaltegärtner said. A UN arms embargo against Somalia also covers the provision of military training, except for training by international peacekeepers.

Legislators said assisting Mr Darman could directly counteract a European Union military mission to train the forces of the Somali government. The EU mission, which began this month, contains German advisers. Asgaard rejected accusations that it would undermine peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. "We want to make clear that we want to work closely with the German government and will not act against its interests in any way," the firm said on its website this week. It said it had not yet sent any staff to Somalia.

Omid Nouripour, the defence spokesman for the opposition Greens party, said: "We have done too little in recent years to regulate private security firms." The prospect of German mercenaries getting involved in an unstable region such as Somalia has awakened memories of the global controversy about the the use of private military contractors by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater, since renamed Xe, faced allegations of wrongly killing Iraqi civilians in 2007 while protecting US diplomats. The staff of other private firms were involved in the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal.

"German companies must not make profits at the expense of Somali civilians and undermine the security policy of Germany and the European Union," said Franziska Brantner, a member of the European Parliament for the Greens party. Security analysts said there was a strong risk that militants might kidnap German contractors in Somalia and hold Berlin to ransom, either by demanding money or by making political demands such as the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan.