SOUTH AFRICA: Washington Private Military Trade Group Slams Anti-Mercenary Bill

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The International Peace Operations Association (IOPA) is lobbying the US and other European governments to put pressure on the South African government not to pass the anti-mercenary bill, saying it undermines the role played by South Africans in peace building missions worldwide.

IOPA is a Washington-based umbrella body of private security companies in the US, Europe and South Africa. Doug Brooks, the president of the IPOA, says the bill is too broad and that it can even undermine peace operations of the UN.

The bill forbids South African nationals from participating in armed conflict areas without the permission of the government. According to the IPOA, there are over 5 000 SA nationals who are involved in countries such as Iraq, Afganistan and Haiti. Brooks says if the bill goes through, these individuals can face prosecution when they return home.

Brooks made it clear that their opposition to this bill is not meant to hide any of their operations from the South African government. "The SA government wants transparency within the industry. We've suggested a panel of experts ... human rights people. Put them all in a panel and let them look at all contracts that involve SA nationals. That is appropriate," said Brooks.

Bill could be passed next year
The Prohibition of Mercenary Activity and Prohibition and Regulation of Certain Activities in an Area of Armed Conflict Bill 2005 might come into force early next year. Those who are opposed to the bill are free to make their submissions before it is finalised.

The defence ministry says the bill is needed urgently because South Africa could not afford to be seen as the "bad boy" internationally.

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