BERLIN — A private security company's plan to deploy more than 100 German ex-soldiers to Somalia to work for a warlord has triggered intense media coverage and drew harsh criticism from lawmakers Tuesday, while prosecutors said they were looking into the deal.
Several lawmakers and interest groups criticized the deal, which has raised concerns over modern Germany's wider military role. Although German law forbids foreign powers from recruiting its citizens, they aren't barred from going abroad to serve as mercenaries in war zones.
Still, given Germany's aggressive military past in the 20th century, most Germans today prefer not to see their soldiers involved in any kind of armed conflict abroad — whether in a NATO-sanctioned mission in Afghanistan, where about 4,000 soldiers currently serve, or as mercenaries in foreign war zones.
Opposition lawmaker Omid Nouripour said his Green Party would also investigate whether the deployment of former Bundeswehr soldiers by Asgaard German Security Group violates U.N. sanctions against Somalia.
"What are we going to do if tomorrow another Somali war lord hires ex-soldiers? Then we have Germans fighting each other in a foreign war zone," Nouripour told The Associated Press. "This is not the way one can solve the war in Somalia."
Prosecutors in Muenster were looking into whether Asgaard's chief violated laws preventing recruitment for a foreign military, Wolfgang Schweer, a spokesman for prosecutors in Muenster, was quoted as saying by Germany's DDP news agency.
The head of the Bundeswehrverband, German soldiers' interest group, urged the government to ban ex-soldiers from participating in armed conflict abroad.
Asgaard confirmed the deal with Abdinur Ahmed Darman — who claims to have been elected as Somalia's president in 2003 — and said the company would deploy the soldiers as soon as Darman had assumed control of state affairs and had been approved by the United Nations.
Darman lives abroad, has few followers in Somalia and hardly visits there. Somalia has lacked a functioning government since 1991.
"We are happy with the agreement and they are happy with it," Darman told The Associated Press from Switzerland. He declined to disclose details of the deal between him and the company, or if money was involved.
He said the aim was to "tell the world that we can bring foreigners to Somali like they did it themselves," he said, adding that the world "imposed foreign soldiers on Somalia" — a reference to African Union peacekeepers.
Darman said he supports the country's al-Qaida-linked group, al-Shabab, because they are fighting Somalia's enemy, which he described as Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers.
Impact of private security companies
Private security companies have had less impact on the Somali conflict than in other African wars, mostly because of the fragmented nature of Somalia's civil war. However, private security companies were active in the semiautonomous Puntland region in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Somalia expert Roger Middleton from Chatham House in London says many of them taught skills that were then transferred into piracy.
"There's nothing to guarantee that soldiers trained for one force will remain with that force," he warned. The Somali politician employing the company could swap sides in Somalia's civil war and the men trained by the Germans could desert to al-Qaida linked insurgents or become pirates, he said.
"It's another complicating factor in a very complicated conflict already," Middleton said.
Unless the company gained an exemption, the training and import of military equipment would be in violation of an international arms embargo imposed by the U.N. and could see the company slapped with sanctions, Nouripour's Greens said. Its directors also could have their assets frozen.
As part of a joint-European Union mission, several German soldiers are currently training around 2,000 Somali soldiers in Uganda in mine awareness and urban combat, the German Defense Ministry said. Therefore, theoretically, German-trained Somali soldiers could in the near future fight German mercenaries in Somalia — an unsettling idea for many.
'These soldiers are professional'
Germany's Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
German soldiers served in Somalia as part of a U.N.-led peace-mission from 1993 to 1994, but were pulled out, along with American troops, after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed.
Asgaard chief Thomas Kaeltegaertner said the company would be in charge of providing security and protection for people, buildings and convoys in Somalia as well as educating Somali security personnel.
He rejected lawmakers' concerns Tuesday and told the AP there was nothing illegal about his security firm providing jobs for former German soldiers.
"The soldiers are professional and have already collected experience in military missions abroad," Kaeltegaertner said. "The politicians should not complain that I'm providing work for unemployed soldiers."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.