Progress At Kimberley Process Meeting

November 2, 2001

The world's major diamond producing and trading countries have reported progress in drafting an international certification scheme for rough diamonds.

Representatives of the countries which form part of the Kimberley Process met for three days in the Angolan capital, Luanda, this week, in what was scheduled to be the second-last such meeting before the proposals are taken to the United Nations General Assembly in December for ratification. "We have moved from examining the forest to examining the trees, and then the branches and leaves," conference chairman Abbey Chikane remarked.

The meeting was one of a series known as the Kimberley Process - started in response to concerns about "blood diamonds" which have been used to raise funds for armed rebel groups in countries such as Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Angola itself. It brings together the main countries involved in the diamond industry, whether as producers, buyers or processors. The member states are working towards a agreement whereby diamonds will be excluded from international trade unless they have a certificate of origin from the producing country.

In a communiqué issued after the meeting ended on Thursday, the countries said there had been agreement on a range of controls which member states would apply within their own countries to provide a firm basis for the eventual certification scheme that would control traffic between the states. The countries also agreed on detailed provisions on co-operation and transparency within their diamond industries.

One delegate told IRIN it was felt there was a need for careful monitoring of production statistics to keep a check on anomalies that might indicate that a country was exporting diamonds mined elsewhere. Addressing journalists at the end of the meeting on Thursday, Angola's deputy minister of mines, Antonio Sumbula, said the Luanda session had achieved its objectives, and that the last details of the certification scheme could be worked out at a meeting of government ministers later this month in Gaborone, Botswana.

However, not all participants shared Sumbula's optimism that the process was on track, since some participating countries still had unresolved concerns. The United States delegation said certain items agreed by the other delegates would still need to be taken back to Washington for a mandate. The American group had reservations over whether certain proposals would comply with World Trade Organisation rules. There was also disagreement over whether diamonds should require certification every time they crossed an international border, or whether this should only be necessary during their initial export from a producing country to a foreign buyer.

Russia and China are understood to be unhappy with proposals whereby each country would be obliged to open its diamond industry to the scrutiny of outside observers to ensure that it was complying with the agreed internal controls. The agreement between sovereign states might not have much of an immediate impact on a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where about half of the country is under rebel control, and gems may pass freely from government-held to rebel-held territory. Chikane said the process was starting on the basis of sovereign control over the diamond trade, and would be expanded later.

The role of the European Union has also come under scrutiny since some, but not all, EU members are also part of the Kimberley Process. The previous Kimberley Process meeting, at Twickenham in England, saw concerns from outside the EU being raised over the possibility of non-certified diamonds entering the EU via a non-Kimberley state, and then passing freely into one of the Kimberley member countries. The head of the EU delegation at the Luanda meeting sought to calm these fears with a letter saying that the Kimberley agreement, once adopted, would be binding across the union.

The regular meetings of the group have been hosted by various member countries, but Angola as a venue was significant in that diamonds have in the past been an important source of revenue to the UNITA rebel movement during decades of war against the Angolan government. Sumbula, corroborating an earlier United Nations' report, said about US $1 million worth of diamonds were being exported illegally from Angola each day by small operators wanting to dodge taxation. But he said that an insignificant number of diamonds were being traded by the rebels. He attributed this to territorial gains by the Angolan Armed Forces, and by the country's own internal monitoring mechanisms. According to the UN report, UNITA's diamond trade accounted for about 25 percent of the illicit diamonds leaving the country each day.

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