South Africa has not violated the arms embargo on Somalia imposed by the United Nations Security Council in spite of the South African private security companies operating there, the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group has said.
This comes after a report by the Monitoring Group noted that several United Nations member states, including South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates, were failing to uphold the arms embargo on Somalia by allowing private security companies to operate in the country.
In its report earlier this year the Monitoring Group said that the South African-based Pathfinder company was in August 2011 contracted by Africa Oil, via its local subsidiaries, to provide security advice and risk analysis. “Pathfinder personnel on the ground liaise with local authorities in charge of security and oversee the Exploration Security Unit (ESU), a special branch of the Puntland security forces established to protect oil exploration and exploitation,” the report said.
The UN report noted that Pathfinder’s transparency and its efforts to comply with the sanctions regime arguably represent ‘best practices’ for private security companies in Somalia. “However, its ‘temporary issue’ of military equipment and the direct funding of the ESU by Africa Oil (via its subsidiary, Canmex) constitute violations of Security Council resolution 733 (1992).”
However, the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group in a letter dated 20 March 2012 stated that “this inquiry in no way means to imply that the Government of the Republic of South Africa has violated the arms embargo on Somalia imposed by Security Council resolution 733(1992) or any other aspect of the Somalia sanctions regime”.
According to the minister of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa was informed by the UN Monitoring Group about the activities of private security companies operating in Somalia and has cooperated with the investigations of the Monitoring Group and will continue to do so.
“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation brought inquiries regarding the involvement of South African companies and individuals to the attention of the relevant implementing authorities, including the South African Police Service and the Department of Defence. Furthermore, members of the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group visited South Africa from 19-25 February 2011 and interacted with the relevant law enforcement authorities on matters related to their mandate.
“South Africa continues to enjoy a close working relationship with the United Nations and is committed to upholding its obligations in terms of relevant Security Council resolutions. South Africa as a Member of the Somalia Eritrea Sanctions Committee will continue to cooperate with the UN in ensuring that private security companies comply fully with all relevant Security Council resolutions,” the Department said.
One of the biggest private security firms highlighted in the Monitoring Group’s report was Sterling Corporate Services/Saracen International Lebanon. In late 2011, the assets, personnel and operations of Saracen International Lebanon were transferred to Sterling Corporate Services (SCS), reportedly a Dubai registered company, which resumed large-scale military training, technical assistance and support to the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).
“Established in May 2010, with the involvement of Erik Dean Prince, the American founder of Blackwater U.S.A., this externally-financed assistance programme has remained the most brazen violation of the arms embargo by a PSC,” the report said. “In 2011, Saracen’s training camp near Bosaaso became the best-equipped military facility in Somalia after AMISOM’s bases in Mogadishu. The SCS base today includes a modern operational command centre, control tower, airstrip, helicopter deck and about 70 tents, which can host up to 1,500 trainees.”
“Thanks to this massive initiative, the Puntland Maritime Police Force is now a well-equipped elite force, over 1,000 strong, with air assets used to carry out ground attacks, that operates beyond the rule of law and reports directly to the President of Puntland. This private army disingenuously labeled a ‘counter-piracy’ force, has been financed by zakat [Muslim charity] contributions mainly from high-ranking officials from the United Arab Emirates, including Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE government, however, has officially denied any involvement in the project,” the report said.
The Monitoring Group stated that SCS was characterised by a lack of transparency, accountability or regard for international law and this was unlikely to change without intervention from its state sponsor.
Late last month it emerged that the SA-linked Saracen International had lost its anti-piracy contract. Wilna Lubbe, a lawyer acting for Sterling and Saracen, said the “contract was terminated by agreement as the Government of Puntland now has the capacity to proceed with its antipiracy programme”.
It is believed that the US-based private military company Bancroft Global Development will take over control of the maritime police force. Bancroft is under contract to the UN’s Amisom mission in Somalia, and has been training and advising United Nations forces. A number of South Africans under the employ of Bancroft in Somalia. The Monitoring Group’s report said that Bancroft was the only private company providing assistance to Somali security sector institutions that complied with UN resolutions.