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ECOWAS Plans to Probe Illegal Diamond Trade


By Peter Kahler

Panafrican News Agency/ Africanews
June 2, 2000

The Economic Community of West African States has reached a decision to launch and inquiry into the illegal diamond trade in Sierra Leone, a United Nations official disclosed Friday.

Oluyemi Adeniji, the special representative of the UN secretary general in Sierra Leone, said the enquiry would cover the "diamond trade in Sierra Leone because it is quite illegal at this time since the government is not in control of the diamond mining areas." He added that the importance of the inquiry rests on the fact that all the West African leaders at their recent summit in Abuja agreed that to arrest the activities of the rebels in Sierra Leone, one has to stop the sources of income by which they purchase their arms. He said ECOWAS has also decided to launch a "regional inquiry" into the renewal of hostilities in Sierra Leone to determine who was responsible for the latest round of fighting and the conditions that led to it.

An ECOWAS committee of six, comprising technicians and military people, will now arrive in Freetown next week to study conditions for a cease-fire. Adeniji said one precondition for the cease-fire would oblige all fighting forces to return to their positions at the signing of the Lome accord July. Non-compliant parties will be handled by ECOWAS, he added.

Adeniji also disclosed that troops from the ECOWAS member states would join the UN Mission in Sierra Leone to beef up its strength. "This means that ECOWAS is no longer insisting on a separate operation in Sierra Leone. ECOMOG will now operate under the United Nations umbrella," he said.

He added that decisions reached at the Abuja summit also include a call from the leaders for the Revolutionary United Front rebels to return all equipment seized from UN peacekeepers they rebels took as hostage. Adeniji said the situation in Quivar and Kailahun remains rather tense because rebels have surrounded over 250 peacekeepers for more than three weeks now. The UN official said an air survey of the Lunsar area, in the north of the country, indicated no presence any armed group, but instead there were bodies in uniforms and with their equipment beside them.

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