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Israel fines security firm for negotiating deal to supply arms to military junta in Guinea

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has fined an Israeli security consulting firm for negotiating a deal to provide arms and military training to Guinea's military junta without the state's prior approval, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

The spokesman, Shlomo Dror, said the ministry fined Global CST for dealing with the West African nation's military government last year. He would not disclose the sum of the fine but said Israel intervened before any deal was concluded.

Global CST is run by Yisrael Ziv, a retired Israeli general whose career included commanding the Gaza Strip area and heading the military's powerful operations branch. Since retiring, he has worked as a consultant in Colombia and Georgia, according to reports in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Israel has a long history of sending mercenaries to African countries, dating back to the 1950s. But today, Israel's Defense Ministry says it closely supervises military exports, including training by private contractors, and denies permits to operate in nations with questionable human rights records.

Dror said the Defense Ministry authorized Global CST to carry out an initial survey for possible business deals in Guinea. When it discovered the company was negotiating an arms sale, it pulled the plug and ordered the fine, Dror said. He said the penalty was imposed "in recent months" but gave no further details.

Global CST said it was not fined, but was instead ordered to spend the money to tighten its oversight procedures to avoid similar "errors" in the future. The company says it has already implemented the changes but declined to elaborate.

"The Defense Ministry never imposed a fine on the company and the company never paid a fine," Global CST said in a statement. "The source of the problem is in an innocent technical error — signing a contract after receiving verbal authorization from the Defense Ministry but before getting a marketing license in writing, which arrived a number of days later."

It refused to say how much money it was ordered to spend, though Haaretz has said it was roughly $25,000.

Dror said Israeli companies are not involved in military training in Guinea.

But Guinean government and military officials say Israelis last year trained forces loyal to now-exiled leader Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara.

Camara grabbed power in 2008. He survived an assassination attempt in December and agreed to go into voluntary exile.

Idrissa Cherif, the junta's minister of communication at the time of the assassination attempt, said last year that Israelis had provided training to the Guinean army. He did not say who the Israelis were or whether they were authorized by the government.

Dror said there is little the government can do to prevent overseas companies that employ Israelis, or rogue Israeli army veterans, from doing business in conflict zones.

In September, Camara's presidential guard troops crushed a pro-democracy demonstration in a stadium in the capital. A U.N. panel that investigated the event said 156 people were killed or disappeared and at least 109 women were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence.

The U.N. commission's report said there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Camara was among the officials who bore responsibility.

A Guinean soldier who received training from the Israelis said the forces underwent "basic training," but the Israelis departed shortly after Camara was shot in the head. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is still in service.

After gaining independence from France in 1958, Guinea was ruled for 50 years by two dictators. Since the death of the last dictator, Lansana Conte, in December 2008, the country has been engulfed in turmoil. It is expected to hold presidential elections next month.

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Associated Press Writer Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.