- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

NEW YORK The U.N. Security Council, in unusually sharp language, called yesterday for a global embargo on Liberian diamonds, saying the government is selling the gemstones to support rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.
"We are forced to support new measures against the government of Liberia because of its illegal support for insurgents in Sierra Leone," said Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, who also denounced Liberia's "use of one of the world's most repugnant insurgencies as a proxy, its illegal exploitation of the natural wealth of Sierra Leone, and its promotion of instability in the region."
If, as expected, the council approves the embargo next week, it will be illegal for Liberia to export diamonds or timber, and its officials will be forbidden to travel.
American and British envoys argued that the sanctions are tailored to punish the government, not the already struggling population of Liberia.
But France, Russia, China and others maintained that additional care was necessary, and urged a gradual phasing-in of sanctions, as well as time limits.
Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan, in New York yesterday to argue against the sanctions, warned that an embargo might make it difficult for his nation to participate in peace talks and use its influence to compel the rebels in Sierra Leone, known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), to comply with U.N. resolutions.
"If this is punitive, then you will have a withdrawal of the Liberian government … from the peace process," he said. "How do you gain influence [over the RUF] if you cut off all links, as we have done?"
Most council members, however, rejected these arguments.
"There can no longer be a shadow of a doubt that [Liberian President Charles] Taylor has callously been prolonging the conflict in Sierra Leone for personal gain," British diplomat Stewart Eldon said yesterday. "As a result, tens of thousands of innocents have been killed or maimed. This cannot be allowed to continue."
An international panel found evidence that Liberian dealers were illegally selling what have become known as "conflict diamonds" and using the proceeds to buy arms and other supplies for the RUF rebels.
The council, which last summer dispatched a peacekeeping force to Sierra Leone that now numbers more than 12,000 soldiers, has been dealing with instability in West Africa for more than a decade.
According to the panel, Liberia exports rough diamonds worth billions of dollars, a huge concentration of wealth that unlike oil, timber or artwork is easy to smuggle.
Diamonds mined in Sierra Leone, as well as Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, fuel civil wars across the continent. The proceeds often are returned in weapons and other supplies.
False paperwork or switched gemstones facilitate the shipping of diamonds from exporting nations, such as Liberia, Guinea, Gambia or Ivory Coast to diamond processing centers in Zurich; Antwerp, Belgium; and Tel Aviv.
Consumers, by extension, have virtually no way of knowing the origins of their engagement rings, stud earrings or tennis bracelets.
Mr. Taylor, himself a former rebel, is said to have exceptionally close ties to the RUF. Earlier this week, he invited U.N. inspectors to monitor the Liberian airports and diamond exports, and promised to resign if they could connect him to conflict diamond sales.
A skeptical Mr. Cunningham said yesterday Mr. Taylor acted only after the threat of sanctions loomed.

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