Frontier Services Group (FSG), founded by former US Military Contractor Erik Prince, says it is moving into Myanmar to provide security services to Chinese and other foreign investors.
Blackwater, a now-defunct private military contractor founded by Mr Prince, was condemned internationally after its employees allegedly opened fire on a Baghdad street in 2007, killing at least 14 civilians.
Mr Prince later sold Blackwater, which then changed its name. While FSG focuses on logistics and security instead of paramilitary operations, the HK-listed firm sparked controversy earlier this year when it released and then deleted a statement on plans to build a training camp in west China’s Xinjiang Region.
“As a Hong Kong-listed company, FSG has established a joint-venture security company in Myanmar and obtained a security licence to provide international-standard security services to international investors in Myanmar, including those from China, Japan and Thailand,” a FSG spokesperson told The Myanmar Times. He declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in the country.
FSG (Myanmar) Security Services Co Ltd is registered as a foreign services company, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA). Last month it advertised for 30 security personnel in Myanmar.
DICA’s company profile of the joint venture lists Daw Sandar Win (Myanmar), Shi Yi (China), Zhang Huagang (China), Tan Qing (China) and U Si Thu (Myanmar) as directors. Daw Sandar Win is believed to be the sister of U Kyaw Win, who owns Shwe Than Lwin Media, the parent company of SkyNet.
FSG’s 2017 annual report also stated that the Myanmar venture is “overseen by Shi Yi, John”, while the 2018 interim report added that the Myanmar subsidiary provides logistics and security services.
But local communities are calling for more information from the authorities and the company about FSG’s activities in Myanmar.
“We need to know the details of FSG’s operations in Myanmar, where and what they are doing and plan to do. The current level of information is almost non-existent,” Doi Ra, senior programme coordinator for local NGO Paung Ku, said.
“The company and its parent company’s past reputation, especially any related criminal record or allegations, should have been considered first and foremost prior to approving its registration and licencing in Myanmar,” Doi Ra continued.
For the International Commission of Jurists, authorities should heavily scrutinise foreign companies seeking to provide security services.
“A business or individual implicated in human rights abuses in other jurisdictions is likely unfit to operate in Myanmar,” said Sean Bain, legal adviser for the ICJ in Myanmar.
A business or individual implicated in human rights abuses in other jurisdictions is likely unfit to operate in Myanmar. Sean Bain, legal adviser for the ICJ, Myanmar
“In any case, a clear legal framework for governing private security operations, including processes for accountability and redress if human rights abuses occur, must necessarily come before private contractors get involved in the already crowded and complex space of armed actors in Myanmar,” added Mr Bain.
“Securing” the Belt & Road in Southeast Asia
Mr Prince, FSG’s executive director and deputy chair, is a former US Navy Seal officer and brother of US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. FSG is chaired by Chang Zhenming from Chinese state-owned conglomerate Citic Group Corp, which, through one of its units, is FSG’s biggest shareholder.
FSG’s involvement in relation to Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative projects is well-documented in company filings. A press release issued on December 5, 2016, said the company “will be opening a forward operating base” in Yunnan to “better serve companies in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia”, as well as Xinjiang.
“These bases will provide training, communications, risk mitigation, risk assessments, information gathering, medevac and joint operations centres that coordinate security, logistics and aviation,” the release said. The new outposts are to “capitalise on China’s One Belt One Road development initiative.”
The Chinese embassy in Yangon declined to comment on whether it was using FSG’s Services.
Citic Myanmar, a unit of Citic Group which is the developer of the proposed Kyaukphyu port, asked this newspaper to “check with FSG directly for their business plan in Myanmar.” “The Kyaukphyu SEZ project is still under negotiation, we have not considered the security service issue,” the investment company said.
Senior research fellow of La Trobe University Gerald Roche argued that “What FSG will bring to Myanmar is know-how, but the state and Chinese capital will supply the motives.”
Doi Ra stressed that the government needs to explain how they are dealing with the company. “If there has not been any action done, what does the Home Affairs Ministry Plan to do? We hope MPs would raise these questions in Parliament.”
She said Civil Society Organisations are concerned that the company will be used to provide security to large-scale infrastructure projects, such as Myitsone.