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2 Former Blackwater Contractors Charged With Murder

Two former contractors affiliated with the U.S. private security firm Blackwater were arrested on murder charges Thursday in connection with the shooting deaths of two Afghans in Kabul last year.

U.S. military officials say 27-year-old Justin Cannon and 29-year-old Chris Drotleff were traveling by car in the Afghan capital on May 5 of 2009 when they were involved in a car accident. Authorities say the contractors, who were off-duty at the time, then opened fire on an approaching vehicle, thinking its occupants were a threat to them. At least one person was wounded.

If convicted of murder, the men could face the death penalty.

The contractors worked for a Blackwater subsidiary known as Paravant. The men were among four contractors fired after the shooting for failing to comply with the terms of their contract.

Blackwater Worldwide also was involved in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians.

Following that shooting, Blackwater lost its license to operate in Iraq, along with many of its lucrative contracts with the U.S. State Department.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe after the Baghdad incident. U.S. authorities charged five guards with opening fire on the civilians at a Baghdad intersection, but a U.S. judge recently dropped charges against them, saying U.S. federal prosecutors had violated their constitutional rights.

On Thursday, a United Nations group of independent experts called on the United States and Iraq to cooperate to ensure those responsible for the shooting are held accountable.

The UN Working Group issued a statement saying it was very concerned that the recent decision to dismiss the case against the Blackwater guards may lead to a situation where no one would be held accountable for grave human rights violations. The group also called for "credible oversight and accountability" of private security firms.

Iraq has said it will take steps to bring Blackwater to justice.

A sixth guard has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.