Namibia to deport US men for trying to recruit guards

Authorities have ordered the deportation of two Americans working for a security firm that was trying to recruit Namibians to work as guards at United States facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, a government minister said.

The Namibian Cabinet also recommended the closure of the local branch of the Las Vegas-based security firm, Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group (SOC-SMG), which was set up earlier this month, Information Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said on Friday.

Nandi-Ndaitwah said two American employees of the firm—Paul Grimes, the firm’s country representative and Fredric Piry, the chief of operations—were to be “immediately removed” from the country. They had been given 24 hours to leave Namibia, she said on Friday.

It was not clear Sunday whether Grimes and Piry, who were staying at a five-star hotel in the capital, Windhoek, had left the country. Calls to their cellphones were not answered.

The US Embassy in Windhoek and the US State Department did not immediately comment on the situation on Sunday.

Private security firms operating in Iraq and Afghanistan have come under increasing scrutiny.
The Iraqi government has ordered Blackwater USA expelled from the country within six months following the shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians last month. Officials are also investigating the shootings of two Iraqi women by guards working for an Australian-owned firm on Tuesday.

Some US lawmakers have said the government relies too heavily on private contractors who fall outside the military courts martial system. Many of the contractors working in Iraq are also third-country nationals. Triple Canopy, a security company that has State Department contracts, has scores of Peruvian guards working checkpoints in the Green Zone.

According to SOC-SMG’s website, the firm’s clients include the US departments of defence, state and energy, as well as the US army, air force, marines and naval special forces.

The company had aimed to recruit at least 3 000 Namibians to work in Iraq and Afghanistan through a local employment agency, with promised salaries of $1 000 a month, local newspapers reported. It is not clear whether anyone had been recruited yet.

Local media quoted Grimes as saying the company had the blessing of the country’s labour and safety and security ministries. “We are looking for noncombatant security guards to guard dining facilities, gyms, military base hospitals in Iraq,” Grimes was quoted as saying in one newspaper.

Under Namibian law, however, it is illegal for citizens to participate in security or military activities in foreign countries without the written permission of the Defence Ministry. Last week, Nandi-Ndaitwah warned citizens that they risked prosecution if they were recruited by the company.

The firm had been targetin-g Namibians over the age of 25 as well as veterans of Namibia’s lengthy war with South Africa for independence.

The company is reported to have held meetings with some increasingly disaffected war veterans, who have been campaigning for hefty pensions and gratuities from the state for their roles in the guerrilla war.

A sparsely populated desert country, Namibia presents an easy option for companies hoping to operate under the legal radar. The country also presents an alternative to neighbouring South Africa, where controversial anti-mercenary legislation has been introduced that will clamp down on citizens wanting to work in security and military sectors abroad.

An estimated 2 000 to 4 000 South Africans worked in Iraq last year, helping to guard oil installations, hotels and foreign residents.

Thousands more are in other countries like Nigeria and Afghanistan.

Many of them are white former members of the apartheid-era armed forces. - Sapa-AP

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