Karzai walks out of security firm ban talks
A STAY-of-execution for private security firms operating in Afghanistan seems remote after president Hamid Karzai stormed out of a key meeting last week.
Mr Karzai snubbed General David Petraeus, commander of US and Nato forces, and a host of top international ambassadors.
Britain's Sir William Patey and US counterpart, Karl Eikenberry, were among the diplomats lost for words when he stood up and marched out of the National Security Council meeting after a series of tense exchanges over the future of the companies.
Officials familiar with the meeting on Sunday said it had been hoped to show Mr Karzai that the ban risks paralysing reconstruction efforts. The German ambassador, the head of the United Nations in Afghanistan and the deputy Japanese ambassador to Kabul were also present.
"The president was adamant that the ban goes ahead," said one official. "He accused (security companies] of running a parallel government. He demanded a list of aid projects that would be affected and, when he didn't get it, he went off on one about the evils of security companies."
Britain, US and Nato claim to support Mr Karzai's plan to disband all private security companies by year end, but privately they fear it will hamper reconstruction efforts. Diplomats and Nato officers have been lobbying hard behind the scenes to win a series of exemptions for various groups, including those who guard embassies and bases.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said: "This is a complicated area and it is clear that the problems caused by unlicensed, unregulated private security companies need to be addressed as a priority."
According to local media reports Mr Karzai accused the companies, which include the likes of Blackwater - now called Xe - and DynCorps as well as hundreds of smaller firms, of robbery, intimidation and violating Afghan sovereignty.
International claims about potential fallout from the ban were undermined yesterday when a coalition of leading charities insisted it would not affect the way they delivered aid.
In a joint statement, the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), which represents almost 100 non-government organisations (NGOs), and the Afghan NGO Security Office, said: "The ban on private security companies will have no negative impact on aid delivery by humanitarian NGOs.
"International law prohibits NGOs from using armed guards. There are approximately 2,000 national and 360 international NGOs operating in Afghanistan.Less than six use the services of a (private security company], most commonly to provide unarmed guards at offices and homes."
The groups likely to be affected are corporate aid companies implementing US and UK development contracts and include the late hostage Linda Norgrove's employer, Development Alternatives Inc. They engage private security due to the cost of insuring well-paid personnel.
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