Ivor Powell and Bianca Capazorio
A UN REPORT has slammed an SA security company for mustering a “private army” in defiance of international agreements, “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation of the Somalia sanctions regime”, and allegedly torturing local recruits.
The report, authored by the UN’s Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) and completed in July, accuses the SA government of failing to fulfil its international obligations which include clamping down on mercenary activities.
The company, Sterling Corporate Services, has strong links to the now defunct SA mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes.
Operating, according to the report, as the “private army” of President Abdirahman Mohamud Faroole, of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, the SA-led operation was set up with the assistance of Erik Prince, former boss of the notorious US contractor Blackwater, as well as former US Central Intelligence Agency personnel.
Initially contracted to a shell company, Saracen International Lebanon, the Puntland business was later transferred – after Saracen was described in an earlier SEMG report as the “most egregious threat” to peace and stability in the region – to an entity styled as Sterling Corporate Services (SCS).
The UN has accused a SA security company of torture. Though officially contracted only to train and provide military advice to the Puntland administration, Sterling/Saracen had been actively involved in several operations against the |enemies of Puntland’s President Abdirahman Mohamud Faroole.
In one operation on June 16 an aerial attack launched by three Sterling helicopters on the village of Balli Dhiddin led to a five-hour firefight in which seven villagers lost their lives, some civilians.
Incidents of torture and allegedly murderous corporal punishment of Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) recruits by Sterling personnel had been reported, and in one instance, on October 16, 2010, filmed. The victim in this incident allegedly later died of his injuries. Another recruit who fell foul of his commanders allegedly had the bones in his hands broken before being dismissed. A third allegedly died after being beaten with rocks.
Sterling was operating at least three helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft in flagrant violation of UN embargoes forbidding the importation of new weaponry and materiel. The monitors also tracked several consignments of firearms, including AK47 assault rifles, as well as stocks of ammunition to Sterling’s base camp near the port of Bosaaso. Equipped with a command centre, control tower, airstrip and helicopter deck, this base is the most high-tech facility outside of UN control in the region and can house up to 1 500 personnel.
Though ostensibly contracted to train an anti-piracy force, the bulk of Sterling’s operations have been directed against villages in the hinterland with little connection to Somali pirates holding shipping routes to ransom. According to the UN it was only around the second half of this year that the first anti-piracy operation was launched.
As a UN member, SA is bound by tough Security Council resolutions aimed at restoring order in Somalia, which has slid into feuding fiefdoms controlled by regional warlords, and has not had a functioning government since 1991.
The report accuses the SA government of failing to fulfil its international obligations to control transfer of weapons, aircraft and other potentially lethal materiel into theatres of conflict, and to clamp down on mercenary activities.
UN monitors say the SA government failed in the past year to respond to four separate approaches for information to assist monitors in investigations.
Ten queries to the United Arab Emirates, sponsors of the Sterling mission, also went unanswered.
Now the monitoring group is calling for firm action by the UN Security Council. Notably it wants Sterling/Saracen “designated” along with other companies and individuals in the opaque network connected to the Puntland operation, and subjected to “targeted measures”. These could include the freezing of assets, travel and trading bans, and exertion of pressure on member governments to frame prosecutions under anti-mercenary laws like SA’s Foreign Military Assistance laws.
Former Executive Outcomes commander Lafras Luitingh – now top man in the SCS operation – told the Saturday Star he was driving and would only be able to call back “next week”, when called for comment.
Questions posed to Mthunzi Mhaga, the spokesman for Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who heads the National Arms Control Council, remained unanswered by deadline. In February, the NACC confirmed SCS/Saracen had neither applied for, nor received accreditation to operate in Somalia.
Spokesman for the Department of Defence Sonwabo Mbananga said his ministry had received no communications from the UN. As the matter was political, correspondence would have gone to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.
Spokesman for the presidency Mac Maharaj confirmed that any correspondence would have been submitted to the International Relations department. However, Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the department, said this was not a given, and without an indication of who the correspondence was addressed to, he was unable to comment.
He asked what the UN wanted SA to do about a private company, apparently operating against the law and without the proper NCACC accreditation.