Angola, Belgium To Combat Gem Trafficking

April 12, 2000

Angola, Belgium To Combat Gem Trafficking

The Angolan government and the Antwerp's High Council on Diamonds of Belgium have signed an accord to combat gem trafficking and to create "transparent control of the diamond trade," according to news services. Under the accord, new certificates of origin and importation will be implemented to allow the immediate identification of diamonds.

The agreement followed the visit to Angola in March by Belgian Vice Premier Louis Michel and the issuance of a United Nations report on the violation of the sanctions against the Angolan rebels. Antwerp's diamond trade was accused of allowing rebels from Angola and Sierra Leone to sell billions of dollars worth of gems on the international market to pay for arms. "Extremely lax controls and regulations governing the Antwerp market facilitate and perhaps even encourage illegal activity," according to a stinging report recently presented to the U.N. by Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler.

According to the U.N. report, Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi defied U.N. sanctions to fund his guerrillas, operating with the help of shadowy South African arms dealers, Ukrainian mercenaries, eastern Mediterranean gem traffickers and African leaders bribed with packets of diamonds. Figures revealed by the Angolan government show the country's parallel diamond market produced some 563,000 carats of diamonds, valued at U.S.$140 million in the first half of 1999.

Many of the strands in this network lead to Antwerp, the report said, where 85% of the world's rough diamonds are traded. At Antwerp's High Diamond Council, the U.N. report was met with consternation and claims the city is being made a scapegoat for an illicit trade that's impossible to control.

- by Mark E. Dixon