October 18, 2002
Diamond Smuggling Continues from Liberia
In May 2002, the United National Security Council renewed diamonds and arms embargoes against Liberia in response to what it said was President Charles Taylor's ongoing diamond - and gun-running. A new U.N. panel report says the diamond embargo, coupled with progress in the Sierra Leone peace process, caused the disappearance of Liberian-labeled stones from the market, reports the Associated Press. But "Liberian rough diamonds continue to be smuggled to neighboring countries" though the civil war there has contributed to a decline in quality and quantity, says the report. Liberia mines relatively few diamonds when compared with other mining nations.
The panel cited "persistent" reports that hundreds of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels formed the core of some offensive units fighting for the Liberian government. A key former RUF member, Ibrahim Balde, told the panel "the hardcore elements of the RUF, mostly Sierra Leoneans, had been integrated in the Anti-Terrorist Unit in Liberia." Balde and another informed source in Monrovia estimate RUF strength in Liberia at between 1,250 and 1,500 men.
The northern-based rebel movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy has been fighting to oust Taylor, a former warlord who won presidential elections in 1997 seven years after he launched a civil war that devastated the West African nation.
The U.N. Security Council approved the original arms and diamonds embargo on Liberia and a travel ban on senior Liberian officials in May 2001 after determining Taylor's government had given military and financial support allowing rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone to wage their decade-long war against the government there. U.N. panel members say they believe the travel ban continues to be violated and they have received reports of people on the list sighted in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.