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Sandline Mercenaries Operating In Iraq

SPICER IN IRAQ Sandline mercenary fame of B’ville crisis to head private army in Baghdad

* See also: http://www.asiapac.org.fj/cafepacific/resources/aspac/mercenary100604.html

By Sinclaire Solomon

PORT MORESBY (The National Online/Pacific Media Watch): Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer, the Sandline mercenary of the Bougainville crisis fame of 1997, has resurfaced in Baghdad, Iraq, to head what is undisputedly the biggest private army in the world.

The Briton, whose Sandline mercenaries were expelled from PNG that year in a military-inspired protest led by Major General Jerry Singirok, this time has the full backing of the occupation authorities in Iraq.

They have awarded his new company, Aegis Defence Services, a US$293 million (about K1.6 billion) contract to coordinate all the security for Iraqi reconstruction projects.

The latest rogue-to-riches episode in the life of this controversial figure and his new company has been released by a US-based military watchdog, Corpwatch, on its website http://www.corpwatch.org

A June 9 article by Pratap Chatterjee on the website said that the US-led occupying forces’ Army Transportation command awarded Aegis Defence Services, the contract on May 25 this year.

Lt-Col Spicer, a former officer with the SAS, an elite regiment of British commandos, has been investigated for illegally smuggling arms and planning military offensives to support mining, oil, and gas operations around the world including PNG at the height of the Bougainville crisis when he was engaged by the Chan-Haiveta Government at a cost of some US$35 million (then about K50 million) to quell the rebellion.

"I am pleased to confirm that we’ve been awarded a contract to assist the Project Management Office (PMO) in Iraq by the United States Department of Defence," Lt-Col Spicer was quoted as telling Corpwatch on the website.

He told the watchdog that he started Aegis just over a year ago on Piccadilly in London, only a short walk from Buckingham Palace.

"The contract involves coordination of security support for reconstruction contractors and for the protection of PMO personnel," he said.

Under the "cost-plus" contract, the military will cover all of the company's expenses, plus a pre-determined percentage of whatever they spend, which critics say is a licence to over-bill. The company has also been asked to provide 75 close protection teams - comprised eight men each - for the high-level staff of companies that are running the oil and gas fields, electricity, and water services in Iraq.

Lt-Col Spicer and Sandline International made PNG news again on May 4 this year when it was the subject of a media freedom day panel discussion at the University of PNG in Port Moresby.

Former PNGDF commander Singirok told the discussion that the Sandline assault on Bougainville was due to take place in April 1997 had he not intervened to stop it.

In April this year, Sandline announced on its website that it was closing operations because of "general lack of governmental support for private military companies willing to help in places like Africa".

At the time of its closure, it was still claiming ownership of military hardware, including Russian-made helicopter gun ships and rifles that were in the possession of the PNG Defence Force and those confiscated by Australian Customs and locked up at an Australian air force base at Tindale in central Australia.

Col Spicer's work in PNG, a public relations fiasco, was not even a military success. In 1989, local landowners led by Francis Ona shut down the Bougainville copper mine to protest the environmental destruction it caused and to demand independence.

In February 1997, the Chan government, which had received about 44 per cent of its revenue from the mine, paid Sandline International US$36 million to rout the Bougainvilleans.

The very next month, Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan sacked Gen Singirok for denouncing the contract with Sandline and arguing that the money would be better spent on his own troops, who were desperately underpaid and ill-equipped.

Riots ensued after soldiers loyal to Singirok led protests that included civilians and university students. The soldiers arrested and deported a number of the Sandline contractors under Operation Rausim Kwik.

Less than a month later, dressed in crumpled jeans, Col Spicer was led into a Port Moresby court. His suitcase, bulging with US$400,000 in cash, was produced as evidence of his contract with the Chan government.

At the hearings, Col Spicer revealed that one aspect of the project (code-named "Operation Oyster") was to wage a psychological campaign against the Bougainvilleans with the help of the Russian-style attack helicopters.

Corpwatch reported that following the Sandline fiasco in PNG, Col Spicer's PR machinery hired a ghostwriter to help remake his image for the new millennium.

His 1999 autobiography, An Unorthodox Soldier, presented him as the "modern, legitimate version of the new mercenaries".

+++niuswire

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH ONLINE http://www.pmw.c2o.org

PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

(c)1996-2004 Copyright - All rights reserved.

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