September 5, 2007 / 4:53 PM / in 12 years

Experts examine Congo's efforts to stop blood diamonds

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - International experts trying to stop “blood diamonds” funding wars are visiting Congo Republic this week to assess its efforts to legalise diamond trading, a mines official said on Wednesday.

The central African country was expelled in 2004 from the Kimberley Process, which regulates the majority of world diamond sales, because it could not account for most of its exports — which were 100 times more than estimated local production.

Mines Ministry Director-General Louis-Marie Djama said a Kimberley Process team had arrived on Tuesday for a week-long mission to assess the country’s efforts to improve traceability.

The team will visit the northeastern region of Likouala, where most of Congo’s diamonds are mined, Djama said.

Industry officials say the Congo Republic has been used as a conduit for diamonds mined across its borders in the larger Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.

Diamonds and other minerals have been at the heart of decades of looting, unrest and civil war in both those countries, acting as a catalyst for the establishment of the Kimberley Process in 2003.

Alain Akouala, spokesman for the Brazzaville government, said in July that a Kimberley Process team was due soon “for a review heralding the reintegration of Congo in the process.”

Most of Congo Republic’s diamonds are found in alluvial deposits by artisanal diggers who sift earth from pits or mud dredged from pools and river beds.

HUGE DISCREPANCY

In 2004, a Kimberley Process report said that while Congo’s diamond output was around 55,000 carats a year, it was exporting 4-5 million carats.

Shortly afterwards, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who won Congo’s brief 1997 civil war to regain the presidency five years after being voted out of power, promised to improve regulation of artisanal mining areas and diamond buying offices.

The government revised the mining law and suspended diamond purchases and exports, but industry experts say such measures rarely halt mining and exports entirely.

“In most other situations where diamonds have been sanctioned or countries have been outside the Kimberley process, diamonds have got out,” said Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner for London-based Global Witness, which was instrumental in the lobby against blood diamonds that led to the Kimberley Process.

Global Witness called for more stringent internal controls on the transport and trade in diamonds, as well as tighter border checks to discourage smuggling. It wanted measures to ensure sales took place between registered traders and payments were made via bank transfers to improve transparency, she said.

A geological survey carried out since 2004 had established Congo’s production capacity, meaning Kimberley Process officials should be able to calculate whether gems were being smuggled.

“If exports are higher than production, you have diamonds arriving illicitly, if they are lower you have diamonds leaving illicitly,” Dunnebacke said. “We want to make sure they really are ready before they rejoin.”

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