Death highlights clash with Somali trainees

A confidential report on the death of a military contractor last month brings into stark focus the problems facing an SA-linked security outfit engaged in a controversial anti-piracy mission in the failed state of Somalia.

Former Parachute Battalion sergeant major Lodewyk (Loots) Pietersen was killed on April 27, in the midst of an operation in the semi-autonomous zone of Puntland, on the Horn of Africa. His death followed an argument with a trainee member of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF), though the details were not given. Reports in the Somali media muttered darkly about a mutiny, and SA’s department of International Relations and Co-operation disclaimed all knowledge.

Pietersen, 52, was employed by a controversial SA-linked private security operation with roots in the now defunct Executive Outcomes. Formerly styled as Saracen International, the project is funded by unnamed donors in Abu Dhabi, and fronted by the nominee company Sterling Corporate Services

What emerges from a private intelligence report in the possession of Weekend Argus is that, before he was killed, Pietersen had had words with a group of PMPF paramilitaries after they purloined two armoured vehicles from the Saracen operational base to buy the drug khat in a local village.

Khat – though its use is time-honoured and ubiquitous in the Horn of Africa – is forbidden under Saracen/Sterling’s operational regulations, as well as being proscribed by international anti-drug protocols.

When Pietersen sought to upbraid the culprits, he was reportedly met with a hail of gunfire from a heavy machine gun – a Russian-made Dishika – turret-mounted on the armoured vehicles. The Dishika however jammed, as the matter was reported on the PMPF radio network.

But even in the face of such belligerence, Pietersen refused to back off. Accompanied by two PMPF personnel, he approached the vehicles to assert his authority. This led to further shooting, this time volleys of warning shots fired into the air from the troops’ assault rifles – then finally shots directed at the SA contractor, leading to his death.

It was reported that 10 members of the PMPF were arrested and taken back to base in Bosasso. It remains unclear whether the culprits have been charged, and whether further action has been taken.

What does emerge, however, is that the killing of Pietersen came at the head of growing tensions between the mainly SA military contractors and the troops they have trained on behalf of the Puntland administration.

In part, the tensions have, according to sources on the ground, arisen from the realisation that many of the around 1 000 PMPF trainees – for reasons rooted in the clan-based structure of Somali society – nurture stronger loyalties to the Puntland pirates than to their employers.

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Article courtesy of iol news, written by Ivor Powell.

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