Plans Against 'Conflict Diamonds' Spurred

Agence France Presse
November 12, 2001

Representatives of the governments in Africa's diamond producing countries and the producers will meet in Gaborone from November 25 to 29 to discuss proposals to combat the trade in so-called "conflict diamonds."

"Officials will confer from the 26th to 28th and government ministers on the 29th," permanent secretary in the Ministry of Mineral Affairs Akolang Tombale said on Monday.

The meeting is part of the Kimberley Initiative, started by the industry to formulate a plan of action to stop the trade in conflict diamonds, which is due to be presented to the 56th session of the United Nations' General Assembly.

The UN will then consider sanctions against the countries that produce conflict diamonds, but Nicky Oppenheimer, chairperson of De Beers Investments - the De Beers' management shareholder - has warned that there must be safeguards in any legislation to protect legitimate producers, who use diamond revenues for development.

"We do not want any legislation that will throw the baby out with the bath water," he said from London in August as he presented the diamond company's half year results.

"That is why it is so important that, particularly in the US, all people come to understand the division between conflict and development diamonds.

Once people fully understand, we would expect that any legislation that comes forward must be very careful not to damage diamonds coming from legitimate producers."

Botswana is the world's largest producer of diamonds, which are the mainstay of its economy. The Botswana government aided by producer Debswana, a 50/50 partnership between the government and De Beers, has been at the forefront of the campaign to stop trade in conflict diamonds since mid 2000.

At this time campaigners in Europe started accusations through their mouthpiece "Global Witness", that diamonds were being sold to finance wars in Africa.

More recent allegations have been made that Osama bin Laden has been financing his al-Qaeda terror network through the sale of diamonds bought illicitly in Sierra Leone.

Information and education campaigns initiated by Botswana first targeted the United States, where 50 percent of the world production of diamond jewelery is sold.

De Beers executive director, Mike Farmiloe, says his best guess of the annual volume of conflict diamonds is $274 million - or three to four percent of world production of some $7 billion - but admitted consumers would not be able to tell the difference between a stone produced from a rebel mine in Angola or one mined in Botswana.

Diamond industry consultant Chaim Even-Zohar estimates conflict diamonds from Angola are worth $150m; from Sierra Leone $70m and from the Democratic Republic of Congo $25 million.

"The bulk of the trade is in gems from conflict-free Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania," Botswana Ambassador Alfred Dube, specially assigned to the US to co-ordinate the Botswana campaign, said.

"People must understand that while diamonds are being used in some countries to fund conflict, there is the other story of how this natural resource of Africa is being used legitimately for the benefit of all its people. The pending legislation must protect the vital interests of Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania."

Reacting to the al-Qaeda allegations, De Beers' Tom Tweedy, speaking from Johannesburg, said he was shocked. "It is not impossible," he was reported as saying, "where there is no regulation, the diamond industry is open to abuse."

De Beers last bought diamonds in Sierra Leone in 1985.

The industry is moving to certify diamonds that are produced legitimately, but that all diamonds should carry a certificate of origin is impossible.

Member of the Antwerp bourse Mark van Bokstael estimates one billion stones are traded every year.

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict

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