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Liberia Stops Blackwater Recruiting Former Combatants

Liberia has stopped the international security firm previously known as Blackwater from recruiting former combatants. The company is best known for providing security to U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

The firm came to Liberia looking for 250 people to join its international security division.

Recruiters from the company now called Xe found many willing applicants in a country where the United Nations estimates unemployment tops 85 percent.

Paul Myers says he met with recruiters because the cost of living is so high in Monrovia he is having trouble feeding his family.

"Right now the situation we find ourselves in in Liberia is dire," he said. "As a young man, you see your time being wasted."

Sam Daniel says the hardships of civil war have prepared Liberians to work in any dangerous situation.

"I will take it to be an opportunity because my time here since I got out of high school up to this time I haven't done anything," he said.

But neither Myers nor Daniel will be working for the international security firm anytime soon as Liberia's government has shut down the recruiting drive because the company does not have a license.

"Their pre-recruitment activities is what got them into this trouble. This company has to understand that it must get the permit in order for it to recruit," said Lawrence Bropleh, Liberia's minister of information. "And in the absence of a permit being granted, they cannot recruit. And if they do not recruit people can not leave. If there is a violation, we are a government. We know how to act."

Founded by veterans of the U.S. Navy special operations force in 1997, the company began by providing training to law enforcement and the military. But its focus shifted more to private security with the start of the fight against terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq is thought to account for over one-third of corporate earnings, but the State Department says it will not rehire the firm after its contract expires in May.

Blackwater guards shot and killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in September 2007 while escorting a convoy of State Department vehicles. U.S. prosecutors have charged five of the company's contractors with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

All five have pled not guilty. Their lawyer says they were defending themselves on a battlefield in a war zone.

Liberian Darious Dillion says the enthusiasm his fellow countrymen showed for joining up with the international security firm indicates that the rehabilitation of former combatants from the civil war has not been entirely successful.

"It tells you that our people, the fighters, their minds have not been disabused from gun warfare," he said. "That is the scariest part about it."

Blackwater changed its name to Xe last month as part of what it says is a re-branding effort to reflect a new corporate focus on aviation, security, training, and logistics.