/ 29 July 2007

Liberia lifts diamond-mining moratorium

The Liberian government has lifted a self-imposed moratorium on the mining, sale and export of diamonds that had been in place for six years, officials said on Saturday.

Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Kpandeh Fayia said that, ”as of Monday, people can start applying for mining, selling and broker licences” for the stones.

Liberia’s diamonds came under United Nations sanctions in May 2001, when ex-president Charles Taylor’s government was accused of using revenues from the stones to fuel war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. In an effort to show compliance, the Liberian government placed a moratorium on all mining activities across the country.

The UN lifted the sanctions in late April, citing steps taken by the country’s post-war government to ensure regulation.

Liberia’s export industry traditionally has been overwhelmingly dominated by rubber and timber, with diamonds being a relatively minor component. Government officials estimated that, before the imposition of sanctions, about $600 000-worth of the gems were being smuggled out of the country annually, with very little going through legal export channels.

In early May, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf formally opened 10 diamond-screening and -evaluation offices in the country, marking the first step toward restarting the industry. The regional diamond offices are supposed to be responsible for recording any diamonds purchased under the new scheme, and for taxing the transactions.

Liberia was wracked by more than a decade of on-and-off fighting that ended in 2003 with Taylor’s ouster in a several-year rebel war. As part of a peace deal, he went into exile in Nigeria.

Taylor is currently in jail facing war crimes charges at a UN-backed court in The Hague stemming from his alleged backing of Sierra Leone’s rebels, who terrorised victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips. His trial is being held in The Netherlands because of fears it could trigger renewed violence in Sierra Leone if it were held there. — Sapa-AP