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Oil firms recruit private militia for Puntland exploration
BOSSASO, Somalia 21 May 2008 - Two foreign companies with rights to explore for oil in northern Somalia have established a private militia force to help protect assets, Garowe Online can report.
The companies – Canada's Africa Oil Corp. and Australia-based mining firm Range Resources, Ltd. – have a joint venture to explore for oil and natural gas in Puntland, a relatively calm region in Somalia' s northeast.
But that agreement, first signed in 2005 between Puntland leader Adde Muse and Range Resources, has been at the center of a political and security storm in Somalia, leading to the resignation of former Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi in October 2007 after he vehemently opposed the deal.
On Wednesday, equipment reportedly owned by Africa Oil but delivered by a contractor – IMC – was transported from the port of Bossaso, 1500km north of the capital Mogadishu.
The equipment, mostly tents and other equipment necessary for living arrangements, was delivered to a remote town roughly 90km east of Bossaso.
Hundreds of Puntland security forces and private militiamen aboard armored trucks escorted the equipment to its proper destination, as representatives from Africa Oil and the Puntland administration looked on.
There was no official word from the government of Puntland regarding the delivery of the equipment or the intentions of the said companies.
But Hassan "Allore" Osman, Puntland's oil minister, told a group of journalists that exploration activities have began in the Dharoor block.
A source close the Puntland government confidentially told Garowe Online that the foreign companies have established a 250-man private militia, which is equipped with light weapons and 50 armored trucks, known across Somalia as "technicals."
It is not clear why Africa Oil and its Puntland government hosts need the private militia, but critics said the private security force idea is rooted in lessons learned from recent exploration initiatives in the region.
In March and April 2006, clan militias in Sanaag region repeatedly attacked scientists contracted by Range Resources to collect mineral samples.
None of the foreign-born scientists were hurt, but 10 Somalis including Puntland government soldiers and clan fighters were killed during the series of skirmishes that eventually led to the suspension of operations in that area.
Puntland President Adde Muse, who returned from a foreign trip yesterday, told journalists in Bossaso that the region's security is "out of control."
Pirate attacks along Somalia's Puntland coast have increased in recent weeks, with random shootouts and political assassinations occurring inside Puntland towns.
Muse's ambitious exploration agenda has faced stiff resistance from local armed clans, who have criticized the Puntland leader for ineffectively handling the region's security and economic challenges.
In April, interim Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf approved the Muse-Range Resources deal, after nearly three years of refusing to endorse the agreement.
Many Somalis fear that Muse's exploration plans will add a newer and more dangerous dimension to the Somali civil war, which has been raging nonstop since 1991.
Source: Garowe Online