Security firms signing up to conduct code for war zones

Nearly 60 private security firms deployed in war zones have pledged to curb their use of force, vet and train personnel and report breaches of the law.

An international code of conduct setting down the first set of standards was sparked by concerns over alleged abuses committed by the Pentagon's private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan amid virtual impunity from criminal prosecution.

Switzerland initiated the landmark code, drawn up over the past year with the help of Britain and the US, home to most private security companies, including the former Blackwater.

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"We strongly encourage all private security companies to sign it and to adhere to it. We believe it could be a new era of enhanced accountability for the industry," UK diplomat Guy Pollard told the signing ceremony in Geneva.

The industry has grown exponentially, often providing essential security services for governments, private companies and aid workers, Mr Pollard added.

Now renamed Xe Services, Blackwater Worldwide saw its reputation suffer after a series of incidents, among them the 2007 killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad. shootout

Ten American companies were among those to sign the code, including industry leaders DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Xe Services as well as leading British company G4S.

"While governments and clients play an important role in regulating the sector, the industry itself must be willing to take a stand and set standards," said Ignacio Balderas, chief executive of Triple Canopy, a firm based in Virginia, founded by US special forces veterans.