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Conflicting Reports Arise About Role of French Security Firm in Somalia


The office of the president of Somalia's transitional federal government says there have been misleading reports regarding an agreement President Abdullahi Yusuf signed last month with a private French military company. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the firm says it has been given an exclusive, three-year mandate to provide maritime security and to train a Somali presidential guard unit. But President Yusuf's office says he has not signed any such deal.

President Abdullahi Yusuf's chief advisor, Abdirizak Adan Hassan, tells VOA that the Somali leader has given the French company, Secopex, approval to pursue a contract to boost security off the Somali coast, create a coastal intelligence unit, and to train the president's bodyguards.

But Hassan says President Yusuf has not given Secopex exclusive rights to carry out those projects in Somalia.

"What happened was, this security company approached us and the attitude of the president was, 'You know, we cannot go into a contract with you, because we cannot pay you. As long as you can get your own payment and contract from the rest of the international community - mainly the U.N., the U.S., the French government - as long as they select you and give you the contract and the go-ahead, we do not mind. When you get their blessing, get back to me. That is when I can say yes or no,'" he said.

Mr. Yusuf met Secopex executives during his visit to Paris last month. The visit was, in part, to thank the French government for its help in the release of hostages aboard a hijacked French luxury yacht off the coast of Somalia in April. After a weeklong stand-off, elite French troops rescued all 30 crew members and captured six Somali pirates.

Hassan, who accompanied the president to France, says Mr. Yusuf made clear to Secopex that it would have to bid for the contract, estimated to be worth between $75 million and $150 million annually for the next three years.

"We just cannot give to one person," he added. "We have to see different specializations and see which one is more appropriate for the job."

The maritime Indian Ocean Newsletter reports the agreement is not binding in that it does not oblige the Somali government to pay for Secopex's services. The newsletter says it has documents that show that the agreement signed in Paris gives the French company an exclusive 36-month mandate to carry out its project.

In an interview with the Agence France Presse news agency last week, Secopex's chief executive, Pierre Marziali, also spoke as if his company had secured the contract.

He told AFP that Secopex will be conducting an audit of existing facilities in Somalia to determine the contract amount, and that the successful rescue of the yacht's crew had played a part in the signing of the deal with the Somali leader.

Founded in 2003, Secopex is composed of specialists from elite French military units and other government security agencies. It specializes in providing private military services to sovereign states.

The office of Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein declined to comment about the deal, saying the matter was still under discussion.

More than 30 pirate attacks have been recorded off the Somali coast this year. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing foreign warships to enter Somali waters with the consent of the government to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea.

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