- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

Greg Campbell's "Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones," is a vivid, hair-raising tale of brutal proportions that outdistances any fictional tale of derring-do.
Diamonds have long held the human imagination in its grip. For movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, they were "a girl's best friend." A large diamond's glitter first defined then outshone Elizabeth Taylor's marriages. And for the average consumer to borrow from the slogan of De Beers, that mighty international diamond cartel "diamonds are forever."
Then there is Sierra Leone.
Few Americans are even aware of the existence of this West African nation, let alone its role in the diamond trade. But Mr. Campbell, who has spent time in Sierra Leone, a country torn by a ghastly and singularly bloody civil war, has tracked the history of diamonds and turned up some very disquieting facts.
First discovered in 1930, the diamonds of Sierra Leone have helped fund the rebel cause in that country. But more disturbingly, as Mr. Campbell reveals, diamonds are making their way onto world markets through the al Qaeda network, often with the complicity of the international diamond industry.
Women proudly, happily wearing diamond rings, necklaces and earrings might be chilled by the long trail those precious, glittering stones follow before winding up in their possession. It is certainly not a pretty story. And Mr. Campbell doesn't pull his punches. The opening sentence of his prologue reads: "Ismael Dalramy lost his hands in 1996 with two quick blows of an ax."
The rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had rolled into Dalramy's jungle village of Koidu, an epicenter of raw diamond production in eastern Sierra Leone, years before. The Sierra Leone government, with a private mercenary force from South Africa it hired, had won back the town in exchange for the RUF retaining the right to mine and sell diamonds. The RUF used terror as its means of control, engaging in: mass rape, torture, random execution, looting and cannibalism all carried out by largely illiterate and drugged teenagers.
Since the beginning of the RUF's ironically named Operation Clean Sweep, in which many innocent people were subject to amputations, RUF rebels have sold millions of dollars worth of Kono District's diamonds into world markets and, as Mr. Campbell writes, many of those very stones are bought by people "who have no idea of their brutal origins."
Readers also learn that Sierra Leone is barely a country but rather a tiny corner of West Africa where violence, poverty, warlords, and misery co-exist. The nation comes in at the dead bottom on the United Nations Human Development Index, with life expectancies rating among the lowest in the world. Males can expect a lifetime on the average of 43, women 48.
The infant mortality rate is one of the worst in Africa: 146 deaths per 1,000 live births. Nearly 80 percent of Sierra Leone's 5 million people have summarily been displaced. The government is corrupt and virtually in shambles. To add to all of this, the tropical climate is ghastly. Year-round it is muggy and humid with a five-month rainy season, great breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes and dozens of deadly diseases including polio and yellow fever.
The RUF has profited to date by between $25 million and $125 million per year placing rough quality diamonds into the world's diamond markets, whose demands are inexhaustible. Other groups like UNITA (the rebels in Angola) have raided their share of the rich diamond and oil fields. The pity of it all, as Mr. Campbell duly notes, is Sierra Leone is a land of "incredible natural wealth." The country not only produces gem-quality diamonds, but also has enormous resources of oil, rubies, gold, rutile and bauxite. As the author says, it should be the Saudi Arabia of Africa.
Before Mr. Campbell went to Sierra Leone he claims he had no idea of the inflated demand for diamonds created over 100 years ago by the De Beers group. Nor did he understand how the policies set in place by this company enabled conscienceless killers to wrench stones from jungle lands, selling them to eager buyers with respectable diamond centers from London to Antwerp to Bombay.
He also learned that proceeds from these diamond sales funded not only the RUF's struggle against its own government, but also terrorist groups like Hezbollah and al Qaeda. And he also discovered how a complicated and widely extended network composed of smugglers, terrorists, corporate manipulators, and corrupt governments made this all possible.
The whole story of "Blood Diamonds" is as exciting as it is terrifying, from beginning to end. Interestingly enough Mr. Campbell's concerns may just be reaching a larger audience than might be expected.
The November issue of Marie Claire, a woman's monthly with several million in circulation, seems to have developed a social conscience of sorts, leading off with an article about a campaign to save women and children from the ravages of war. At the end under the heading: "What You Can Do," the third item reads, "Stop the blood-diamond trade," advising readers to write their legislators, calling for more "stringent reforms of the diamond industry that would guarantee that consumers know a diamond's country of origin at purchase." Just possibly they should write to De Beers as well while they're at it.

Cynthia Grenier writes The Mag Trade column for The Washington TImes.


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