U.N. Bans Export of Sierra Leone Diamonds

July 6, 2000

U.N. Bans Export of Sierra Leone Diamonds

The U.N. Security Council has imposed a worldwide ban on the export of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone until its government can establish a diamond certification system and regain control of its diamond mines.

The embargo was proposed by the U.K. and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British Ambassador to the U.N., says the system will make it more expensive and more difficult for rebels to deal in illicit diamonds from Sierra Leone. "There's a lot of work still to do," he says, "and this is only the beginning of a number of steps we need to take on Sierra Leone. But it's a good beginning."

Sierra Leone Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara thanked the U.N. for its support. "We have always maintained that the conflict in Sierra Leone is not about ideology, tribal or regional difference," Kamara told reporters. "The root of the conflict is and remains diamonds, diamonds and diamonds."

The vote on the ban stalled last week due to a dispute over placing a time limit on the embargo. The U.S. opposed a time limit, saying it would undermine the effectiveness of the sanctions, but France was concerned about sanctions never being lifted. The final decision set the ban to last 18 months, but it can be extended if the government does not reassert control over the country's mines. The council also ordered a hearing on the role of diamonds in fueling the conflict and tightened the arms embargo on the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone.

The resolution passed with a vote of 14-0, with Mali abstaining because it opposed the resolution's reference to illegal diamonds being shipped through Liberia. Mali's ambassador says the reference was unacceptable because West African nations haven't completed an investigation into the allegations. U.N. council members were also warned by Oluyemi Adeniji, U.N. envoy to Sierra Leone, against naming Liberia since its president, Charles Taylor, is trying to free 222 U.N. peacekeepers and 11 unarmed U.N. observers surrounded by rebels in India. Taylor also helped the U.N. in May by negotiating the release of 500 peacekeepers held hostage in Sierra Leone.

- by Julia M. Duncan