Israelis to Train Equatorial Guinea Presidential Guard

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

Israeli arms dealers and security companies are negotiating a contract to train Equatorial Guinea's presidential guard.

At the same time the dealers and companies are trying to organize a visit to Israel for President Teodoro Obiang Nguema during which he would meet President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

A Foreign Ministry source confirmed to Haaretz yesterday that the ministry was aware of the effort to arrange a visit for Obiang and the intensive activity of Israeli arms companies in Equatorial Guinea.

"Even if we object to this activity and to the attempt to arrange the visit, we could not refuse a head of state with whom we maintain diplomatic ties. Also, we've already had visits from heads of state that were organized by private individuals. It's not unusual," the source said.

International human rights organizations said that if Israelis train Equatorial Guinea's presidential guard, it would help bolster one of Africa's most corrupt and tyrannical presidents.

They said that he could take advantage of the training to conduct a deadly campaign against rivals and opponents.

A year ago, Israel Military Industries (IMI) sold Equatorial Guinea about $10 million worth of Shaldag Mk-II class Fast Patrol Boats manufactured by Israeli Shipyards. An IMI representative declined to comment on the matter yesterday.

IMI is one of the companies competing for the contract to train the presidential guard.

An failed coup attempt took place in Equatorial Guinea about a year ago. It was organized by British businessmen including Mark Thatcher, the son of Britain's former prime minister.

The coup plotters were assisted by British, South African, Armenian and German mercenaries. Most of them were arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences in Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Following the coup attempt, Obiang approached Israeli weapon dealers and security companies for assistance.

In addition to IMI, Aeronautics Defense Systems of Yavne, which manufactures drones, is also active in Equatorial Guinea. Several retired senior IDF officers, including Major General(res.) Avigdor Ben Gal, are on the Yavne company's board of directors.

Ben Gal told Haaretz that he is not personally involved in business in Equatorial Guinea. Aeronautics CEO Avi Leumi was unavailable for comment.

The company was involved recently in controversial dealings in Ivory Coast, where a civil war is taking place.

At France's request, the Defense Ministry has recently suspended all Israeli security dealings in Ivory Coast. Other Israeli businessmen are also known to be involved in business deals in Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea, located in west Africa between Gabon and Cameroon, is a former Spanish colony and until a few years ago was considered one of the most under developed states on the continent. Following the discovery of large quantities of oil a few years ago, it has become one of Africa's largest oil producers. American, British, South African and Malaysian oil companies are operating in the country. IMI's boats are intended to secure the oil rigs at sea.

Obiang rose to power in 1979 after reportedly killing his uncle, the reigning president. Human rights groups say his security forces regularly carry out murders and mass arrests, and torture prisoners.

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