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Guinea Military Defends Chinese Mineral Deal

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Guinea's military ruler is defending a $7-billion mineral deal with China. Guinea is under a regional arms embargo following last month's killing of opposition protesters.

Guinea's military government says the Chinese mineral contract will improve the lives of its people by boosting investments in infrastructure including power plants and rail lines.

Mining Minster Mahmoud Thiam says the Chinese company will be a "strategic partner in all mining projects." Guinea is the world's largest source of aluminum ore and also has diamonds and gold.

The $7-billion deal has drawn criticism from human rights groups and political opponents as it provides an important source of revenue for a military government facing sanctions over the killing of opposition demonstrators.

The Economic Community of West African States has already imposed an arms embargo and the African Union is threatening further sanctions over last month's violence.

Human rights groups say at least 157 people were killed in a demonstration against the expected presidential candidacy of military ruler Captain Moussa Camara. The military government says 57 people died, most in the crush of people fleeing the main sports stadium.

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U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would not comment directly on the Chinese mineral deal but said Washington has "expressed concerns about this kind of activity" because the United States believes "it's important that as you do business with countries you also have respect for human rights."

Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesman Ma Zhaoxu says the deal is in line with the interests of the people of both Guinea and China and is based on principles of equality and mutual benefit. He says investments by the Hong-Kong-registered firm behind the deal will help develop Guinea's economy and improve the lives of its people.

Captain Camara says it is a good deal for Guinea. He says the only reason it is drawing so much attention is because he is embarrassing foreign companies that he says have been stealing Guinea's mineral wealth for years.

Captain Camara praised young members of the military and the civil service who he says have the patriotic courage and conviction to join his campaign to develop Guinea by engaging in contracts with foreign investors who provide a win-win partnership for the country.

Captain Camara is calling on political opponents to join him in an interim government of national unity. But the main coalition of political parties, trade unions, and civil society groups says it will not take part in ECOWAS mediation unless Captain Camara resigns.

Mouctar Diallo of the New Forces of Democracy Party praised West African leaders for listening to opposition concerns and acting on an arms embargo.

Diallo says the ECOWAS decision is inspired and most welcomed because political opponents were afraid that parts of the army were importing weapons to use against the people of Guinea as they did on September 28. Diallo says the arms embargo should not just be a piece of paper but is something that must be enforced.

Diallo says a United Nations inquiry into the violence meant to shine light on the massacre will only succeed if it has the collaboration of the military government.

Captain Camara is promising to cooperate with that investigation and has launched his own inquiry into the violence.

He denies any responsibility for the killing because he was not at the stadium. He is blaming both political opponents who he says should not have had an illegal demonstration and what he calls "uncontrollable elements" of Guinea's military.