Keep curbs on blood diamonds, say miners

Efforts to stem the trade of “conflict diamonds” are still needed, even if fighting has eased in the African countries where they are produced, the diamond industry was warned on Tuesday.

Recent allegations that terror organisations such as al-Qaida are using the gems, also called “blood diamonds”, to help finance their activities shows the industry remains under intense scrutiny even if the charges are not true, the World Diamond Conference was told.

“The days are gone when you can buy on the street from unknown suppliers,” Alan Eastham, the lead US government official on the conflict diamond issue told industry representatives in Vancouver.

The United Nations has banned the sale of conflict diamonds, which were used by rebels in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo to fund their causes. The industry has been under increasing pressure to develop a system to certify where the gems they buy are mined.

The Kimberley Process, an agreement by the world’s leading producers, exporters and importers, obliging countries to issue certificates proving their rough diamonds come from legitimate mines, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Although the Kimberley Process is supported by many in the industry, some critics question if it is still needed with the signing of a ceasefire in Angola and elections in Sierra Leone.

“Can we please have our Angolan diamonds back,” said Antwerp-based trader Jack Jolis, who argued that curbs on conflict diamonds have done nothing but hurt small independent miners.

“Diamonds don’t kill or maim people any more than guns and knives do. People kill people,” Jolis told the conference.

Experts have estimated that conflict diamonds make up four percent of the world trade, although an official of the Diamond High Council—which sorts and distributes 80% of the world’s production—estimated on Tuesday it was now down to about 1,5%.

Eastham warned that the industry still needs a system to stem smuggling and to certify diamonds came from legitimate producers so revenues generated by mining can be used to address poverty and other social problems, and avoid future wars.

“I think we need to pay more attention to where those revenues are put,” Eastham said.

The diamond industry has denied allegations by some US lawmakers that have linked al-Qaida to the trade in conflict diamonds, saying there is no evidence to support the charge.

Supporters of stopping the trade in conflict diamonds expressed concern on Tuesday that the allegations could also distract from efforts to address the problems in Africa that are at the heart of the debate.
- Reuters

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