Global Policy Forum

Liberia Denies Diamond Trafficking in Sierra Leone

Agence France Presse
August 1, 2000

Liberia denied Tuesday that it trafficked in arms and diamonds in Sierra Leone, but it conceded that illegal traders operated in its territory and called for international help to stop them. Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan sidestepped allegations that his country's president, Charles Taylor, had accepted kickbacks from rebels in Sierra Leone in violation of a UN embargo.

In a statement to the UN Security Council's Sierra Leone sanctions committee, he mentioned neither Taylor nor the US representative to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, who made the accusations on Monday.

Holbrooke said leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone had paid Taylor large commissions "for his services as a facilitator for diamond sales and related arms transfers."

He said the trade was worth between 30 million and 50 million dollars in an average year, and had turned the RUF from "a gang of machete-wielding thugs" into a strongly armed force capable of shooting down aircraft.

Captan said Liberia had regulated its own diamond trade before the UN Security Council imposed its embargo on July 5. Traders had to declare the origin of diamonds in order to get an export permit, he said. Recently, the government had introduced a certificate of origin scheme, he added.

But when Liberia asked for help to reassert its authority after a seven-year civil war that ended in 1995, "the response of the international donor community was negligible," he said. "Small poor countries just do not have the capacity to tackle the complex syndicates of illegal trade on their own," he said.

He pointed out that Liberia's border with Sierra Leone consisted mostly of 250 kilometers (155 miles) of dense tropical forest with footpaths linking villages on both sides. He asked the United Nations to give his government "technical assistance to develop its capacity to monitor and control illicit trading within its territory."

Captan said the government of Sierra Leone had reported an increase in revenue since it set up its own certificate of origin regime. He claimed this suggested that some rebels were selling diamonds through brokers in Freetown who legitimised the trade by paying taxes and export fees.

Experts had told the sanctions committee earlier that Liberia's declared diamond exports far exceeded its production, implying that stones were smuggled out of Sierra Leone through Liberia.

Captan replied that "most so-called Liberian diamonds entering Antwerp actually come from Russia in order to avoid the 0.3 percent import levy that Belgium charges on non-African goods." He also dismissed allegations that Liberia was involved in arms dealing.

He said insurgents continued to attack Liberian territory, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had suspended the repatriation of 32,000 Liberian refugees because of the violence. "Liberia could never be a facilitator of such mayhem," he said. "Liberia is a stakeholder in the peace and security of the sub-region and especially in bringing the illegal arms trade in our sub-region to an end," he said.

Captan said it was essential that the government of Sierra Leone regain control of the rebel-held diamond-producing regions in the east of the country, near the Liberian border. "This objective could be achieved through the deployment of peacekeepers in the diamond regions," he said.

He called for the UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone to deploy units on the Liberian side of the frontier to enhance border surveillance.

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