NY Times and AP report Erik Prince backing for South African mercenary firm in Puntland and Mogadishu; Puntland declares adverse opinion on TFG

Puntland has extended oil leases for a year.

Blackwater Founder Trains Somalis, AP, Katharine Houreld.

“Saracen International Reportedly Has Blackwater Founder’s Support” NY Times (Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, with Jeffrey Gettleman)

Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials.

.  .  .  .

Mr. Prince’s precise role remains unclear. Some Western officials said that it was possible Mr. Prince was using his international contacts to help broker a deal between Saracen executives and officials from the United Arab Emirates, which have been financing Saracen in Somalia because Emirates business operations have been threatened by Somali pirates.

According to a report by the African Union, an organization of African states, Mr. Prince provided initial financing for a project by Saracen to win contracts with Somalia’s embattled government.

A spokesman for Mr. Prince challenged this report, saying that Mr. Prince had “no financial role of any kind in this matter,” and that he was primarily involved in humanitarian efforts and fighting pirates in Somalia.

For now, the Obama administration remains committed to bolstering Somalia’s government with about 8,000 peacekeeping troops from Burundi and Uganda operating under a United Nations banner.

Indigenous Somali forces are also being trained in Uganda.

Saracen has yet to formally announce its plans in Somalia, and there appear to be bitter disagreements within Somalia’s fractious government about whether to hire the South African firm. Somali officials have said that Saracen’s operations — which would also include training an antipiracy army in the semiautonomous region of Puntland — are being financed by an anonymous Middle Eastern country.

Several people with knowledge of Saracen’s operations confirmed that that was the United Arab Emirates.

.  .  .  .

At least one of Saracen’s past forays into training militias drew an international rebuke. Saracen’s Uganda subsidiary was implicated in a 2002 United Nations Security Council report for training rebel paramilitary forces in Congo.

That reported identified one of Saracen Uganda’s owners as Lt. Gen Salim Saleh, the retired half-brother of Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni. The report also accused General Saleh and other Ugandan officers of using their ties to paramilitaries to plunder Congolese diamonds, gold and timber.

.  .  .  .

Saracen is now training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu. The company has trained a first group of 150 militia members and is drilling a second group of equal size, an official familiar with the company’s operations said.

In December, Somalia’s Ministry of Information issued a news release saying that Saracen was contracted to train security personnel and to carry out humanitarian work. That statement said the contract “is a limited engagement that is clearly defined and geared towards filling a need that is not met by other sources at this time.”

“Puntlands New Position Towards TFG (Press Release)”

In an extra-ordinary meeting, the Puntland Council of Ministers has today decided the following:

  • Praises the international community’s role in providing continued humanitarian and development assistance to Somalia , and especially welcomes the role of the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Mogadishu ;
  • Requests the international community not to endorse or cooperate with the TFG as a legitimate representative of Puntland;
  • Proclaims that Puntland shall not cooperate with the TFG until a legitimate and representative Federal Government is established and agreed upon by the legitimate stakeholders in Somalia ;
  • Declares that the TFG does not represent Puntland in international forums and calls upon the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) to reconsider its position and support for the TFG at the expense of other Somali stakeholders;
  • Welcomes , supports and endorses the  new U.S. Dual-Track Policy which is based on realities on the ground in Somalia ;
  • Remains fully committed to deal separately with the international community on reconstruction, development and reconciliation matters for Somalia , namely: the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union, the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the European Union, the United States , and all donor communities-at-large;
  • Asserts its firm opposition to any term-extension for the TFG under all conditions;
  • Calls f.or and welcomes to host a broad-based Somali National Reconciliation Conference to be held in Puntland

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