UK to fund 'security advisers' for Sierra Leone

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The Independent Online

Britain is to pay for a private security firm to provide intelligence training and advice to Sierra Leone, the West African country slowly recovering from a 10-year civil war.

Britain is to pay for a private security firm to provide intelligence training and advice to Sierra Leone, the West African country slowly recovering from a 10-year civil war.

The revelation will raise fresh questions over the Government's close relationship with the security firms after the Sandline arms-to-Africa scandal.

The Department for International Development (DfID) is offering a 12-month contract to provide "intelligence and security advice" to the government of Sierra Leone, headed by President Ahmad Kabbah.

As well as training, the winning firm will work "at the highest level" with the country's new security service and even draft an official secrets act.

Security industry sources said Control Risks, Erinys International and Aegis Defence Services are possible bidders.

A bid from Aegis would embarrass the Government. The company is headed by Col Tim Spicer, the former Scots Guard who was at the centre of the arms-to-Africa affair. His former company, Sandline International, tried to smuggle arms to forces in Sierra Leone in 1998 in contravention of a UN arms embargo and in apparent collusion with the Foreign Office.

A spokeswoman for Mr Spicer refused to say if Aegis would bid for the contract in Sierra Leone. A DfID spokeswoman said: "All applications will be judged on their own merits."

Jonathan Garratt, the managing director of Erinys International, said: "Any decision to tender would only be made once our ethics committee has reviewed the requirement." Control Risks declined to comment.

The contract is part of the DfID's attempts to reconstruct the country after the civil war, which left 50,000 dead. The department has provided £104.5m in aid in the past three years. British troops in the country are credited with maintaining the fragile peace.

But the DfID's decision to turn to private security firms has worried some politicians. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, on Friday asking him to provide "full disclosure" over the contract.

"Security is key to Sierra Leone as development can only happen if it has the basic security in place," he said. "But [the use of the firms] does raise concerns and at the very least I would want a proper explanation and justification of this."

The Government is coming under pressure over its reliance on private security firms as part of its foreign peace-keeping missions. Up to 15,000 "mercenaries" are thought to be working in Iraq. But some foreign security firms have been accused of involvement in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

The Foreign Office published a Green Paper two years ago on regulating mercenaries but firm proposals have not followed.

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