- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

A multinational conference in Gaborone, Botswana, this week may agree to a protocol that would stem the trade in "conflict diamonds" rough gems used to finance rebel insurgencies in Sierra Leone, Angola and other parts of Africa.

The conference aims to establish a credible verification system that would thwart the traffic of "conflict diamonds" without upsetting the legitimate diamond industry.

Under the proposed certification scheme, each rough diamond mined would be accompanied by a certificate stating that it is a legitimate product and not part of an illicit consignment. The stone's origin and proceeds of the sale would be noted.

Last week, Abbey Chikane, chairman of the South African Diamond Board, came to Washington "to gain a better understanding of the constraints" of the proposed system.

The Kimberly Process, a term for the effort to standardize the treatment of "conflict diamonds," takes its name from the first meeting on the issue, held in May 1999 at the mining hub of Kimberly, South Africa. About 35 diamond-producing and diamond-exporting countries now take part in the talks.

After this week's meetings, a detailed blueprint for certification will be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly.

A final agreement has been problematic because minerals, particularly diamonds, play a crucial role in many African economies.

A credible certification scheme first might hurt the diamond-producing economies of Africa, then move through the diamond-polishing centers in Antwerp, Belgium, and Israel. The United States also could be affected, not as a producer but as a major re-exporter.

One goal of Mr. Chikane's visit was to persuade Washington to cooperate in the certification scheme and issue a clearance on approved diamonds at the time of re-export.

So far, the United States has indicated that it prefers that the Kimberly Process be limited to primary exporter nations, so it will not be drawn into a role as a police force for tracking diamonds. South African sources say they hope that the United States will soon join the Kimberly Process.

The problem of "conflict diamonds" is intense in Sierra Leone. The Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group that routinely amputated the limbs of innocent civilians in a campaign of terror, was largely funded by the illicit diamond trade.

The gems also have created problems in Angola, where a 26-year insurgency has been kept alive principally by the sale of rough diamonds.

Jonas Savimbi, head of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, aims to unseat the formerly Marxist government. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, resources for Mr. Savimbi's anti-communist efforts were plentiful.

Now, with foreign aid stemmed, Mr. Savimbi relies on financing from diamond mining to fuel his campaign. Supporters of Mr. Savimbi defend their diamond sales and say that the government is prolonging the unrest by allocating oil earnings to the war.

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