Colombia's military forces
Colombia's military forces

The United Arab Emirates is planning on enlisting up to 3,000 former Colombian soldiers in its armed forces, according to reports.

The oil-rich Arab country is looking to bring the soldiers over from South America to assist its armed forces, the weekly Semana reported.

Up to 842 Colombian troops have already been brought in, according to the report.

They are said to be attracted by high pay - up to 10 times what they get in their home country.

It is believed Colombian soldiers are being targeted because they are highly experienced and less in demand at home as the war against Farc rebels winds down.

But Colombian top brass were upset by the move and feared Colombia would lose valuable troops and some of its best officers.

"They have recruited soldiers with a lot of combat experience, valuable men with years of service in which the army invested a lot in terms of training," a general told Semana.

"Without a doubt, this is a loss for the army, but there isn't much we can do because it is by no means illegal," the official added.

Soldiers as mercenaries

The paper said the UAE offers Colombian soldiers between US$2,800 and US$18,000 (£1,300 and £11,500), depending on rank, in stark contrast to the $530 a month officers are said to earn in Columbia.

In May 2011 the New York Times claimed the Arab state had hired Colombian soldiers to use them as mercenaries.

It said Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial security firm Blackwater, was given the job of forming an 800-member battalion of foreign troops by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

The move came as several Arab countries, including Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, were convulsed by the Arab Spring. The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, sent troops to Bahrain when unrest broke out there.

According to Colombia Reports, however, the 800 Columbians currently employed in the UAE's army are not mercenaries. Citing a former colonel who recruits soldiers for the UAE army, it said they were directly employed by the armed forces.

"What is happening now is different to before. We are not mercenaries. The contract of the people who travel is directly with the government of the [United] Arab Emirates," the source said.