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Swiss investigate whether ex-Blackwater employee violated mercenary law Print

The Associated Press - November 6, 2007

BERN, Switzerland: A Swiss national who worked in Iraq for the U.S. security firm Blackwater is being investigated to see whether he broke a law barring Swiss citizens from working for foreign military services, an official said Tuesday.

The United Nations has called the use of private security guards by companies like Blackwater Worldwide, which was involved in the killing of 17 civilians in Baghdad two months ago, a growing new form of mercenary activity, which is discouraged in international rules on the conduct of war. Blackwater Worldwide recently changed its name from Blackwater USA.

The United States rejects the notion that government-contracted security guards, of whatever nationality, are mercenaries.

Switzerland started its investigation in May, said Frank Zellweger, spokesman for the Swiss military justice system. If the judiciary rules that employment for Blackwater constitutes military service, the man could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Blackwater would only face criminal sanctions if it was found to have actively targeted Swiss citizens for military recruitment, Zellweger said.

He declined to identify the Swiss national, citing the country's strict privacy rules.

But he confirmed details of the investigation, as reported by the Zurich daily Tages Anzeiger: that judicial authorities were alerted to the case by a television report in May about how the man had worked in Iraq and then applied to join France's Foreign Legion.

Swiss national television network SF1 referred to the man only as "Mike."

Zellweger said the man has since confirmed to authorities what SF1 reported.

Switzerland has yet to rule on whether employment for a private security firm in a war zone constitutes mercenary activity.

Tages Anzeiger reported that military justice officials have asked Swiss intelligence to help the investigation by determining how Blackwater is contracted and what weapons the firm uses in Iraq. The paper said the man is not accused of war crimes.

Switzerland, which was famous in the Middle Ages for sending mercenaries throughout Europe, prohibits service in a foreign military. The country has previously focused on Swiss dual-citizens serving in the armies of countries where they also hold passports, and nationals serving in the Foreign Legion.

Zellweger said the federal government granted an exception in 1929 to the Swiss Guard members who have protected the Vatican and Roman Catholic popes for the last five centuries.

Under international law, the hiring of foreign soldiers by one country for use in another is barred only for the 30 nations that ratified a 1989 treaty against the practice. The U.S. and Iraq are among the many states that did not sign.

South Africa passed laws last year that, in theory, make it more difficult for its citizens to work for Blackwater and other security companies in Iraq. But there still are hundreds of South Africans believed to be in Iraq, many of them from the apartheid-era security force, and no investigations are taking place.

The German weekly Der Spiegel reported that several Germans are working for security firms in Iraq and some have been killed. The paper said it is not illegal for Germans to fight as mercenaries abroad, but companies are prohibited from recruiting Germans for mercenary work.

The U.N. report that criticized Blackwater and other security firms in Iraq will be presented to the General Assembly in New York later this week, said Jose Diaz, a spokesman for U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour.

Written by five independent human rights experts, the report said a "tremendous increase" in the number of such companies, including those working for the U.S. State and Defense departments, has occurred because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The panel said companies have hired former soldiers and policemen from Fiji, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Spain and elsewhere, some of whom had become "private militarily armed soldiers."

Associated Press correspondent Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva contributed to this report.

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