Global Policy Forum

UN Tries to Go to Root of Conflict


By Gu Zhenqiu

Xinhua News Agency
August 1, 2000

Sierra Leone diamonds were once again brought into lime light as a U.N. sanctions committee Monday opened a two-day public hearing in order to probe the link between the illicit trade in gems in the West African country and arms trafficking.

When a government geologist discovered diamonds in 1930 in Sierra Leone, he could not have so wild an imagination that the precious stone are being used to fuel a nine-year civil war against both legitimate government and innocent civilians.

Sierra Lone gems, described as "the conflict diamonds" by the international community, are at the heart of the tragedy in the war-torn country. The precious resources have become the cause of human suffering on a terrible scale, rather than a source of wealth for national development.

The Security Council Sanction Committee on Sierra Leone Monday kicked off the public hearing, first of its kind, following the 15- nation body's July 5 decision to impose a global ban on the illicit trade in Sierra Leone diamonds, a move described by Alhaji Mohammed Deen, minister of mineral resources of Sierra Lone, as " the first time for the Council to go to the root of the conflict in his country."

"For nine years, the people of Sierra Leone have suffered the consequences of the illegal use of the nation's diamonds as a tool for destruction rape, amputation, abduction, indiscriminate killings and other atrocities against innocent civilians," the minister told the public hearing here Monday.

The fact that Sierra Leone is endowed with precious minerals and other natural resources, especially diamonds, is not a bane. The problem is how and for what purpose the proceeds derived from these resources are used.

"It is bad enough when millions of dollars worth of our diamonds are smuggled out of the country, when the Government is deprived of revenue for its socioeconomic programs, and when the masses of our people do not benefit from the resources," Sylvester Rowe, Sierra Leone's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, told the public hearing Monday.

"It is worse, and a gross violation of human rights when proceeds from the illegal exploitation and sale of our diamonds are used to buy weapons to kill our people and prolong the suffering of our people, including children who have been virtually deprived of their future," he said. "So, at the heart of the issue of diamonds is the link to trade in arms, ammunition and other material to fuel the rebel war."

In early May, the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh who is currently under government custody in the capital Freetown, violated a peace accord signed by Sankoh and the government in July last year by taking more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage.

At the beginning of the public hearing Monday, speaker after speaker testified to the fact that President Charles Taylor of Liberia and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso have been directing the RUF's war strategy.

Both presidents have long personal ties to the RUF leadership and it was asserted that they were facilitating the rebel group's diamond business and supporting the rebel war through training, supply of personnel and arms and ammunition. In response, however, diplomats from the two West African countries have denied the allegations, which they described as rumors and not being backed by evidence.

Therefore, the U.N. Sanctions Committee should go into great details in its probe in order to provide convincing answers to the following questions:

How does the RUF rebels procure arms, ammunition and other war material, and what are their sources of origin?

What types of arms do these rebels procure?

How does the RUF pay for the arms and for the services of those who train their combatants in the use of these weapons?

How does the RUF get diamonds? How does it sell them, through what channels and to whom?

What role does RUF supports and surrogates play in diamonds and arms transactions?

How does the RUF finance its external public relations activities aimed at indirectly blocking resources for international and regional peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone?

By faithfully answering the above-mentioned questions, the Sanctions Committee can help choke off the financial resources for the RUF to buy weapons or to drag on the conflict in Sierra Leone, where a thriving gem-for-gun business fans the hard-to-end warfare.

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