By MOHAMMED IBRAHIM and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Friday, December 31, 2010
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somalia’s Parliament demanded Thursday that the government immediately suspend the operations of several foreign security contractors because the lawmakers said they had no idea what the contractors were actually doing.
While Western officials have recently acknowledged that a number of private security contractors have begun operating in war-ravaged Somalia, little is publicly known about whom exactly they are working for or what their assignments are.
Lawmakers are accusing Somalia’s president and prime minister of making secret deals, and United Nations officials have been raising questions about whether some of these contractors might be helping organize and arm new pro-government militias, possibly violating the United Nations arms embargo on Somalia.
“These companies were hidden from us,” Mohamed Bashir, a Somali lawmaker, said on Thursday.
The Somali government — which is fighting an Islamist insurgency and is confined to a few city blocks in a country nearly the size of Texas — recently disclosed that it hired at least one of the security companies to train soldiers. It identified the company as Saracen International but did not provide details about it, including where it is located.
But lawmakers said there were at least five other foreign contractors doing secretive security work in Somalia.
Several of the security companies are based at Mogadishu’s airport, Somali residents have said.
Somalia’s new prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, gave the impression on Thursday that he did not know what the companies were doing in the country.
“I’ve been in office only a month, and these contracts were made by the former government,” said Mr. Mohamed, an American citizen who recently relocated from upstate New York. But, he added, “it is my responsibility to investigate these deals.”
He gave himself a deadline of four weeks to reply to Parliament. It was not clear on Thursday if this would placate lawmakers, who seem to take pride in their feisty and often antagonistic relationship with the other branches of Somalia’s weak government. The lawmakers want the government to suspend the contracts now, until further review.
Last week, Somalia’s Ministry of Information issued a cryptic news release about Saracen and who is behind it. “The funding of these activities is provided by some Muslim countries that have no interest but to help the people and government of Somalia overcome the difficulties they faced for the last 20 years,” the release said, without disclosing which Muslim countries. “This is a rare opportunity.”
The Somali government is facing an uphill battle against the Shabab, a radical Islamist insurgent group that controls much of the country. The Shabab are known for a violent brand of rule that includes executing their perceived enemies or performing crude amputations on them.
The Shabab have sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda and claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Uganda in July that killed dozens of civilians who were watching the World Cup.
About 8,000 African Union troops are based in Somalia, many Ugandan. The Somali government acknowledges that without them it would fall to the insurgents within days, maybe even hours.
The United States and other Western nations have been trying to bolster the struggling government against the Islamist insurgency, with relatively little success.
Mohammed Ibrahim reported from Mogadishu, and Jeffrey Gettleman from Nairobi, Kenya.
Source: NY Times