Warning over self-regulation of mercenaries in Afghanistan

By agency reporter
July 17, 2009

The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband has today been accused of risking civilian lives in Afghanistan by allowing UK private military companies to regulate themselves.

The warning, from the charity War on Want, comes amid mounting controversy following more deaths in Afghanistan.

The government today ends consultation over its proposals for self-regulation of mercenary firms.

The charity is pointing to human rights abuses which have involved private armies in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These have included the wounding of two Iraqi civilians when mercenaries from UK company Erinys International fired on a cab near Kirkuk and mercenaries with the US firm Blackwater, now renamed Xe, shot at and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

Mercenaries working for the NATO coalition also shot the Kandahar police chief and nine of his officers in Afghanistan.

War on Want says the UK government’s voluntary code of conduct for mercenaries would leave civilians in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq exposed to further abuse.

It has previously called for tough legislation, such as a ban on the use of mercenaries in combat and combat support. But the charity is now demanding that the Government scrap its proposal for self-regulation and allows Parliament to have its say on legislation that would ensure strict controls.

Government figures show private military companies have secured British government contracts for 2008-2009 worth more than £42 million in Afghanistan alone. Over the last three years, the UK has spent more than £148 million on contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Britain and the US plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, reports suggest there will be an even greater use of private armies.

The United Nations has called for governments to introduce legislation to control the private military sector and in 2002, the UK government and the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee said that self-regulation was not adequate.

Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “Letting mercenaries run loose threatens to increase abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Miliband is giving private armies the power to act with impunity. The government must scrap its voluntary code for mercenaries and bring forward genuine regulation.”

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