Sunday, September 09, 2007

Liberia Ships First Diamonds Since Lifting of United Nations Sanctions

Liberia ships first diamonds since lifting of U.N. sanctions

The Associated Press
Published: September 9, 2007

MONROVIA, Liberia: The stones that once dripped with blood have been washed clean.

Liberia has shipped its first consignment of diamonds since the lifting of U.N. sanctions that blocked the export what were called "blood diamonds" — gems used to fund years of war and killing — officials said Sunday.

A shipment valued about at US$222,000 left Liberia last week, government spokesman Laurence Bropleh said. He declined to name the exporting company or the shipment's destination.

The Liberian government received a royalty of about US$6,000 from the shipment, said Gabriel Williams, a deputy government spokesman.

"This amount may look small, but we have to start from somewhere," Williams said. Liberia has identified at least three diamond clusters along its border with Sierra Leone that it hopes to develop, Williams said.

The precious stones were a major motivation for the cross-border conflict that ravaged both Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone for more than a decade. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been accused of using diamond wealth to arm fighters known for hacking off people's limbs and conscripting children.

Both Taylor's forces and rebel fighters were charged with looting Liberia's small diamond reserves to buy arms, along with smuggling gems from Sierra Leone's more expansive diamond fields for export through Liberian ports.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Liberia's diamonds in May 2001. To comply with the sanctions, the Liberian government placed a moratorium on all mining.

Liberia finally emerged from its civil strife in 2003, with Taylor's ouster from office.

The U.N. removed the sanctions in April, citing Liberia's efforts to institute control and tracking of diamonds, and the Liberian government lifted its moratorium in late July.

Liberia remains one of the world's poorest countries. It was battered by civil wars that left 200,000 people dead and displaced half of the country's 3 million people. Government officials hope a restored diamond trade will create jobs in a country with an unemployment rate of 85 percent.

Before the sanctions were imposed, the government estimated that about $600,000 worth of the gems were smuggled out of the country every year, with very little going through legal export channels. Diamonds have historically been a smaller segment of Liberia's exports than rubber and timber.

Liberia submitted its application in March to join the Kimberley Process, a voluntary 71-nation group created because of the furor over diamond-funded wars in Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Members agree to trade only diamonds that have been certified not to have funded conflicts. In June, Liberia attended a meeting as a full Kimberley Process member for the first time.

No comments: