Global Policy Forum

UN Panel: Dealers Buying Illegal Diamonds


By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press
October 31, 2000

Despite a U.N. effort to crack down on violators of sanctions against Angola's rebels, international diamond dealers are still buying gems from the group, a five-member U.N. panel reported. In an interim report Monday, the panel investigating the illegal diamond trade said it was also pursuing reports that several countries had in recent months violated sanctions.

The panel, headed by Chile's former U.N. Ambassador Juan Larrain, did not identify any of the countries but said its members met with government representatives in several African states previously accused of flouting sanctions.

The government and UNITA rebels, a Portuguese acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, began fighting after Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Three peace accords have since collapsed. The United Nations imposed an arms and fuel embargo on UNITA in 1993 in an effort to hinder its ability to fight. When a four-year-old peace accord brokered by the United Nations collapsed in 1998, the sanctions were expanded to include a ban on the group's diamond exports.

The Security Council created the panel after a U.N.-authorized team exposed sanctions violators. A March report by the independent experts alleged that two African presidents, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, helped UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi with arms and fuel shipments in exchange for diamonds. It accused Rwanda of allowing guns-for-gems transactions. It also accused Belgium of having such lax standards at its Antwerp diamond market that rogue dealers were able to trade UNITA gems with virtually no obstacles.

Many of the countries and institutions implicated denied the allegations. But the panel's interim report to the Security Council said "it is clear that international dealers are still prepared to flout sanctions and buy diamonds from UNITA, and that it is very difficult, even for those countries with the will, to prevent diamond smuggling given that the system of controls on the sales of diamonds is not yet in place." Despite the embargo, UNITA continues to mine diamonds and move them to markets, the panel said, noting an Angolan government report that the rebels opened a new diamond mine in Malange province.

On Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency said it has sent a convoy carrying 80 tons of food aid to a remote region of Congo to meet an expected influx of up to 18,000 Angolans refugees reportedly fleeing renewed fighting between UNITA rebels and government forces in Angola's Lunda Norte province. The trucks left the Congolese capital Kinshasa Monday for a 10-day, 625-mile journey to Kahemba, in the province of South Bandundu. Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said a second aid shipment will be sent by road next week.

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
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