Diamond trade fuels bloody wars
LONDON, England (CNN) -- When a person in the West buys a diamond, they risk unwittingly supporting atrocities in one of three African countries: Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The "blood diamonds" of Sierra Leone have funded rebel leader Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front since 1991, enabling his men to wage a guerilla war which still rages against the elected government of Tejan Kabbah and also against civilians in the north-east of the country.
The RUF started cutting the hands off civilians as a "symbolic" way to prevent them voting and to stop them gathering in crops of rice which would feed the Sierra Leone Army. Their crude amputations later spread to feet, lips ears and noses.
Amnesty International's economic relations and human rights campaign co-ordinator Salil Tripathi, said: "It is the poorest country in the world and it is conceivable that the diamond ring being enjoyed by a young woman in the richest part of the world could have resulted in the dismemberment of a young woman in Sierra Leone."
| THE HUMAN COST|
Sierra Leone 1991-1999, 50,000 dead, 1 million displaced
Liberia 1989-1996, 150,000 dead, 1.5 million displaced
Angola 1992-1999, 500,000 dead, 1.7 million displaced
Democratic Republic of Congo 1998-1999, 80,000 dead
The RUF rebels in Sierra Leone are trained in neighbouring Liberia, according to Global Witness campaigner Alex Yearsley.
"They are armed and trained there and then pushed through into Sierra Leone solely to get the diamonds for Liberia. It is a case of: 'We'll support you to take over the country, and in return you get us the diamonds.'
"The mutilations to stop people voting are symbolic and by preventing the civilians gathering the harvest they make them dependent on the RUF for food and also stop the Sierra Leone Army getting fed. Starvation helps destabilize the country," he said.
Yearsley says children in the villages are kidnapped then given a gun and told to return and shoot their parents or be killed themselves. They are then forced to join the RUF.
These children, says Yearsley, are also injected with cocaine believed to be cultivated in Liberia, or given potent draughts of palm oil wine. They are also given locally grown marijuana.
Yearsley, who has visited Bo in Sierra Leone, met a force of pro-Sierra Leone Army vigilantes. "Even the RUF fear these men. They hang mirrors, magic pendants, and ju-ju charms over their bodies and believe in so doing they are immune from bullets," he said.
In Angola, diamonds worth $150 million were produced in conflict areas in 1999 even though the U.N. Security Council applied sanctions against the export of illicit diamonds -- those without a certificate of origin -- the year before.
From 1997 up to 100,000 illegal miners had been tearing at the soil of Lunda Norte in the north-east of the country for diamonds.
"Networks of European traders were handing over bundles of cash for the diamonds," said Alex Yearsley.
Alex Yearsley says children are forced to shoot their parents, or be killed themselves
"There was so much money available it became worthless -- a chicken cost $50, a soft drink $10 , a bag of rice $500. The diamonds were then smuggled over the border into what was then Zaire, where agents bought them up.
"The diamonds came with certificates claiming they were from legitimate mining operations but forgeries of those documents could be bought in the mining areas."
De Beers is the world's leading diamond mining company which controls 70 percent of global diamond supply. The company declared an embargo of all diamond purchasing from Angola in October 1999.
In May 1997, Laurent Kabila came to power in the Democratic Republic of Congo and faced a revived civil war a year later from rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
Fighting between all factions has centred around the Eastern and Western Kasai Provinces where the diamonds are mined. "Seven thousand Angolan troops were deployed by Kabila to protect these mines," said Yearsley. "He would have run out of money had they been taken over."
Even so, Yearsley adds, Rwandan troops have been fighting Ugandans over the left -overs.
Rings make up majority of sales
The RUF started cutting the hands off civilians to stop them voting and gathering crops
The number of "conflict diamonds" which find their way onto the fingers in New York, London, Paris and Rome is an ongoing debate between the industry and the human rights campaigners. The former say it is 4 percent of the total market, some of the latter maintain it could be as high as 10 percent.
Rings make up 79 percent of diamond jewellery sales worldwide, although the major market is the USA.
The world diamond jewellery retail market was worth US $56 billion in 1999 and the figure is on a "continuous growth curve" according to Global Witness the campaigning group funded by the UN department for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Most of the illicit diamonds from Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo end up in either Antwerp in Belgium or Tel Aviv in Israel where they are traded.
Many rough diamonds then move on to be cut and polished at 30 countries worldwide but dominated by India with approximately 50 percent of the world trade, but Thailand, Mauritius and the U.S. also have diamond cutting companies.
The top diamond jewellery consumer market is the U.S. where in 1998, 33 million pieces of diamond jewellery were sold at an average price of US$655 per item, worth US$22 billion. London also has an important diamond trading market based in Hatton Garden.
Liberian trade with rebels may draw sanctions
December 20, 2000
U.S. bars Liberian officials from entering country
October 11, 2000
Diamond industry approves ban on war-related gems
July 19, 2000
U.N. Security Council bans sale of Sierra Leone diamonds
July 5, 2000
200,000 hungry, frightened citizens of Congo diamond town trapped amid fighting
June 9, 2000
Diamonds are Sierra Leone war's best friend
May 24, 2000
Lust for diamonds kills thousands
January 12, 1999
U.N. information on conflict diamonds in Africa
De Beers Canada, Information on Conflict Diamonds
Global Policy Forum, Diamonds in Conflict
Diamond Information Center
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