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Private firm flouts UN embargo in Somalia

Eight months after SA-linked private military company Saracen International was fingered in a UN Security Council as the “most egregious threat” to peace and security in the failed state of Somalia, Saracen continues to run and train a private army in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Saracen, one of a cluster of shadowy private military contractors born from the ashes of the SA/British mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes, after nearly 18 months of military activity in the region, has yet to secure permission to operate as a security provider in a region so volatile Somalia has not had a functioning central government for upwards of 20 years.

File Photo: Saracen trainees in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia. The company's avowed mission in the area was to assist in training an anti-piracy task force. Credit: INLSA

Tlali Tlali, the spokesman for the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, confirmed that neither the SA arm of the Saracen operation, nor any of the individuals associated with the Somali adventure had applied for accreditation as legitimate security contractors.

UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) co-ordinator Matthew Bryden confirmed the company had failed to seek or secure authorisation from the international authority to operate as a private military contractor in Somalia after being fingered in the Monitoring Group’s June 2011 report.

We understand that the UN is in possession of compelling evidence that Saracen has continued with military training and deployment in defiance of the UN’s general arms embargo. The continuing violations of UN Resolutions 1973 and 1976 are expected to be addressed in detail in the SEMG’s forthcoming annual report at midyear.

Saracen’s operation in Somalia is headed by Executive Outcomes stalwart and – until the mercenary outfit was disbanded – holding company director, Lafras Luitingh. Luitingh is also a director of Australian African Global Investments (AAGI) the company primarily involved in logistical supply and procurement for the operation.

The Saracen operation, funded by anonymous donors in the United Arab Emirates, has also been linked to US private military contractor Erik Dean Prince, formerly head of the notorious Blackwater, now operating out of Abu Dhabi as Xe Services. A third shadowy connection uncovered in respect of the Saracen programme is to former Mogadishu CIA bureau chief Michael Shanklin.

Originally contracted under the auspices of Somalia’s fragile Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to train up an anti-piracy task force, and to take care of presidential security, Saracen has since early 2011 been exclusively contracted to the administration of Abdurahman Farole, “president” in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, and based near the Puntland port of Bossaso.

The transfer of base and allegiance followed the cancellation of the TFG contract in the wake of allegations of violations of the UN arms embargo in February 2010.

Shortly before the TFG deal was cancelled, a flight chartered by Saracen was grounded by the authorities in Somaliland – another of the semi-autonomous regions that make up the failed Somali state – and an unauthorised cargo of combat uniforms, military webbing and other materiel impounded. The cargo – enough to equip more than 500 soldiers- was vaguely detailed in the flight manifest as “safari equipment”.

At the present time, Saracen controls, on behalf of Farole, what is estimated to be the largest military presence in Somali territory with the exception of the nearly 20 000 strong Amisom peacekeeping force.

Photographs in the possession of Independent Newspapers show that its troops are equipped with state of the art hand-held light machine guns, as well as heavier machine guns mounted on turrets fitted in armoured vehicles and AK47 assault rifles.

Earlier, as highlighted in the SEMG report, Saracen’s trainers complained that weapons already available from Puntland’s armouries were inadequate, and proposed that new weapons be accessed by “other channels”.

Warned by the UN they would be closely monitored and that such imports would be in flagrant violation of the general arms embargo enforced under UN Security Council Resolutions 1973 and 1976, Saracen apparently backed down, saying they would rely on what the Farole administration could legitimately access on Somali markets.

However, sources close to the UN in Somalia told Independent Newspapers that while the UN mission had not been in a position to scrutinise all deliveries, many of the weapons in the possession of the Farole forces were not available on internal markets in Somalia.

After being fingered for “egregious violation of the arms embargo” and “representing a threat to peace and security in Somalia” in June 2011, Saracen undertook to suspend all operations, but said it would maintain a presence to secure equipment already inside Somali territory and to perform humanitarian functions like building clinics and delivering famine relief in rural areas.

However, Independent Newspapers investigations have revealed that Saracen has routinely exceeded its avowed brief, and appears to have been pursuing different and shadowy agendas.

At present the Saracen base outside Bassaso has capacity for an estimated 1 500 soldiers – three times the number of soldiers trained by the time Saracen agreed to suspend operations.

Moreover, in the course of the past year, according to sources close to the UN operation, Saracen is known to have brought 15 000 tons of materiel into Puntland in defiance of the UN arms embargo, and without the UN being in a position to execute inspections.

Other intelligence in the possession of Independent Newspapers indicates that in the second half of 2011, the Puntland port was closed off to normal control mechanisms for a period of 10 days while Saracen materiel was unloaded. It remains unclear exactly what the cargoes were.

Meanwhile, in the current frame, Saracen has deployed forces to a military command centre at Qow in the Puntland hinterland, according to sources on the ground. There is also evidence that Saracen is operating at least four helicopters in Puntland – after UN monitors blocked the unloading of two Alouettes on a vessel linked to Saracen and its shadowy associates in the early part of 2011. In addition the operation is suspected to have access to at least six ocean-going vessels as well as several inflatable attack vessels.

Funded to the tune of some $50 million (R380m) a year for an initial period of three years – the figure excludes the cost of military hardware – the avowed purpose of the Saracen operation was to train up an-anti piracy force on behalf of the Puntland administration. However, even in the June 2011 SEMG report the concern is expressed that “there were early indications that the Puntland authorities may have had alternate objectives in mind for the force”.

Some of those “alternate objectives” could be highlighted in a letter dated 6 December 2010 and addressed to the UN by the “president” of the Galmudug region of fractured Somalia. Here reference is made to a “massacre” of “innocent nomads” carried out by Puntland security forces explicitly identified as having been armed and trained by Saracen. In one of a series of actions conducted by troops in armoured vehicles equipped with heavy weapons, the Galmudug leader says 35 people were killed, and 46 wounded, many of the casualties inflicted on women and children.

While the direct involvement of Saracen in the incidents referred to has been questioned, sources close to the UN monitoring group said there were indications that Saracen could be equipping and advising militias loyal to Farole in ongoing civil conflict with Bedouin clans in the Puntland domain.

Especially targetedare clans with an allegiance to the militant religious leader Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom – who has emerged as one of the major targets of US interventions in Somalia.

Avowedly linked with the militant Al Shabaab, Atom, as well as other clan leaderships in the area are also highly resistant to the exploitation of mineral resources in their territory.

Ironically, little activity is on record or has been alleged involving anti-piracy actions on the part of Saracen.

Meanwhile the stakes have risen higher in troubled Puntland. With a concerns growing that Farole intends to secede from the fragile Somali federation, drilling has begun on two oil concessions in the territory held by Canadianmining company Africa Oil. With huge reserves already identified – and initial surveys indicating even more extensive offshore resources, Puntland is poised to become a major player in the horn of Africa.

Against this backdrop, intelligence sources indicated that Saracen’s operatives, backed by Mohamed Farole – son of and designated advisor to the president – have sought to insert themselves into an oil security operation that to date has operated with UN accreditation and in co-operation with the international authorities.

This would give Saracen a foothold in the resources-for-arms trade that characterised Executive Outcomes’ military adventures in Angola and Sierra Leone among other troublespots in the 1990s.

Contacted for comment, Luitingh said he could not speak at that moment and failed to answer calls later. - Sunday Independent

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