A controversial US mercenary group with ties to the UAE has signed a deal with China to build a training centre in Xinjiang where up to a million Uyghur Muslims are reportedly held in detention camps.
Hong Kong-listed security firm Frontier Services Group (FSG), which is founded by Erik Prince, has signed a preliminary deal with the Chinese authorities. A statement posted on its Chinese website confirmed the deal but was later deleted in what appears to be an attempt to avoid a backlash against Prince's activities.
Erik Prince made a name for himself as the founder of Blackwater, a private military contractor that did business in Iraq. He was also employed by the UAE in the late 2000s to build up a mercenary army. Blackwater was forced to relocate from the US to Abu Dhabi after its controversial role in Iraq, where its employees were held responsible for civilian deaths in Baghdad, including the 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Disgraced by the actions of Blackwater, Prince later sold the company and set up FSG but not before he was granted a $529 million contract by Muhammed Bin Zayed to build an elite mercenary army for the UAE and to report to the Crown Prince personally.
The extent of Prince's connections with the UAE was exposed following Donal Trump's election victory in 2016. The ex-Navy Seal officer is reported to have been part of a clandestine meeting between the UAE, Russia and a Trump ally investigated by the FBI.
The deal between FSG and Beijing would see training camps being run in the north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where up to a million Uyghurs are reportedly held in indoctrination camps that have drawn condemnation in Washington and abroad.
A spokesman said Prince – a minority shareholder and deputy chairman of FSG – said he was unaware of the deal, which was preliminary and would need to be signed off by all board members before final approval.