Mercenaries in trouble spots to be regulated

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New laws to regulate mercenaries and private security firms who supply armed guards in trouble spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan are being considered by the Government.

New laws to regulate mercenaries and private security firms who supply armed guards in trouble spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan are being considered by the Government.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is said to believe that the arguments in favour of a new law have been strengthened by events in Iraq. Ministers say the companies play a valuable role in keeping the peace but acknowledge the "new situation" must be addressed.

Ministers had argued a law would be unworkable, but the growing reliance on the companies in Iraq has prompted a rethink. Contractors employed by the US supervised interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqis were abused.

Up to 10,000 private security guards, including an estimated 1,200 Britons, are working in Iraq. Before the handover of power they were given immunity from Iraqi law.

"There is a genuine issue here and we are looking hard at it," one government source said yesterday. "The problem wasn't created by Iraq but that has changed the picture. Any action would be across the board and would not relate only to Iraq."

Mr Straw may announce the planned U-turn this autumn when he responds to the report by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on the war on terrorism published on Thursday. However, legislation is unlikely to be introduced until after the next general election.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "It is almost impossible to prevent the spread of the use of private military companies. It makes sense to ensure they are regulated."

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