By Ange AboaReuters
December 18, 2006
Diamonds are still being smuggled out of war-divided Ivory Coast via Mali and Ghana in violation of a U.N. embargo despite rebel assertions to the contrary, according to a U.N. report.
U.N. experts identified Malian nationals who had been buying gems in the town of Seguela, which lies in the rebel-held north of Ivory Coast, and had observed "intensive mining" in the area during an aerial survey in November. "The identification of these Malian buyers further underlines the significant smuggling of Ivorian diamonds to Mali in violation of United Nations sanctions," the group of experts said in a report to the U.N. Security Council.
The report, seen by Reuters on Monday, also said Ghana risked suspension from the Kimberley Process -- a U.N-backed scheme to ensure "blood" or "conflict" diamonds are not sold on the black market to buy weapons -- after smuggled Ivorian gems were found among diamond exports registered as Ghanaian.
For example, diamonds of non-Ghanaian origin had been found in a shipment transported from Ghana to Dubai, an important international diamond-trading centre, the report said. It said a "detailed action plan" had been agreed with Ghana to strengthen its controls over the diamond sector. Progress would be evaluated by a Kimberley Process review team in February next year. "If the evaluation team is not satisfied, Ghana could face suspension from the Kimberley Process," the report said.
No action could be taken against Mali as it was not a Kimberley Process participant. Rebels seized the north of Ivory Coast in a 2002/2003 civil war and admit they smuggle cocoa -- the country's main export -- to neighbouring states to fund their movement. But they deny dealing in conflict diamonds despite allegations by U.N. experts that they generate revenue of between $9 million and $23 million from the trade.
The U.N. report also said criminal networks had been breaking an arms embargo on Ivory Coast, using international courier firms to import shipments of small arms. "Currently the ports are wide open to abuse and the U.N. Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) has not conducted a port inspection since August," the report said.
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