UNITA rebels in Angola have recaptured the diamond center of Caombo in northern Malange province, Reuters reports. Western sources say government forces known as FAA captured Caombo in November, but UNITA counterattacked and caused heavy casualties Dec. 1-2. FAA has declined to comment on the situation, but Reuters' sources say FAA is on the offensive and it appears to have momentum.
In Sierra Leone, RUF rebels reopened part of the main highway toward rebel-held diamond areas after talks with United Nations peacekeepers, says Reuters. The highway was reopened between the capital, Freetown, and another town in the center of the country. This will allow peacekeepers and humanitarian aid groups to reach cities previously blocked by rebels. Also in Sierra Leone, the mineral resources minister decided only companies not individuals will be allowed to get diamond export licenses. So far 13 companies, 11 of them foreign, have applied for licenses.
Earlier this week in Botswana, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tried to calm fears that international efforts to curb the sale of conflict diamonds may cripple the country's economy, which is heavily dependent on legal diamond exports, Reuters reports. Botswana plans to start a campaign to limit the damage that could be done to the image of diamonds.
In related news, the U.S. is pushing for a U.N. embargo on Liberian diamonds, the Financial Times reports. The U.S. blames Liberia for aiding the conflict in Sierra Leone. Over the past few years, Liberia exported $300 million worth of rough diamonds, even though the country is only capable of producing less than $10 million worth annually.
- by Julia M. Duncan