September 2, 2003
Fighting Continues in Liberia's Diamond Region; U.N. Troops Due Oct. 1
The Liberian government reported clashes last week in diamond-rich northeastern Liberia, but authorities and residents denied a report of an alleged massacre, reports the Associated Press. Peacekeepers for the Economic Community of West African States' force in Liberia have yet to be deployed outside the country's capital, Monrovia. As a result, fighting continues in parts of the country, despite a cease fire and peace agreement announced on Aug. 18.
The top United Nations envoy for Liberia, Jacques Klein, says the country needs a U.N. peacekeeping force of 15,000 troops, but he believes it will take many months to reach that level. Meanwhile, the ECOWAS force will reach its full strength of 3,500 soldiers by Sept. 4. ECOWAS expects those 3,500 soldiers to put on the light blue hats of U.N. peacekeepers on Oct. 1 and become the vanguard of the U.N. force, says Ghana's Foreign Minister Nana Akufo Addo, whose country chairs ECOWAS.
Liberia's peace agreement is aimed at ending 14 years of internal conflict that has claimed 150,000 lives. The chaos has also created a country where it is alleged conflict diamonds are still smuggled out, mostly in efforts to buy weapons to fuel West African regional conflicts. In addition, reports published in newspapers and by human rights groups linked Liberia with diamond sales to al Qaeda terrorists several years ago. The whereabouts of those diamonds is still in question as is the issue of how they will be eventually sold.
Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, who was centrally involved in diamond smuggling operations, resigned Aug. 14 and left the country. Elections for a new leader are slated for October and relief workers are attempting to restore basic services, health care and other vital needs to the ravaged nation. Trade experts hope that all these events and efforts, plus the arrival of U.N. peacekeepers, will help restore order to Liberia and prevent further conflict diamond smuggling from taking place.
Currently, Liberia is under a United Nations diamonds and weapons embargo and it has been refused membership in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the international trading network for legitimate rough diamonds that went into full effect on Sept. 1.
For more background on Liberia's history and its involvement in the conflict diamond crisis in the West African region, please go to Professional Jeweler's Conflict Diamond Archive and scroll to Backgrounders on Conflict Diamond Countries, where there is a brief history of Liberia and a recounting of current events.
by Peggy Jo Donahue