Tuesday, June 26, 2007

EU lifts its embargo on Liberian diamonds

BRUSSELS - The European Union on Monday lifted its embargo on Liberian diamonds, following a decision by the UN Security Council in April that the trade in "blood diamonds" from the country has been stemmed.

The decision, allowing the import of Liberian diamonds for the first time since 2004, was made retroactive to April 27, when the security council made its decision to lift the ban, the EU said in a statement.

Last month Liberia was admitted to the international diamond exporting scheme known as the Kimberley process after satisfying experts it had taken measures to prevent the trade in "conflict diamonds."

The government in Monrovia has pledged to honour conditions set by the UN to ensure the gems, blamed for fuelling a barbaric 14-year civil war in the country, do not slip out of the tight international diamond control system.

Endowed with abundant timber, rubber and mineral wealth, Liberia lay in ruins after its civil war. Its former leader and warlord Charles Taylor is on trial at The Hague for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The trial was adjourned for a week on Monday as the former Liberian president again boycotted the hearings over problems with his defence lawyers.

During back-to-back internal conflicts that lasted from 1989 to 2003, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, rivals plundered the country's wood and diamond resources to purchase the arms they used to wage war in a conflict that claimed more than 400,000 lives.

An expert mission, headed by the European Union and Botswana, visited Liberia in March and concluded that it had met the conditions for admission and the country will now be able to export its uncut diamonds legally to the 70-plus Kimberley Process member states.

The European Union is the current chair of the Kimberley process and EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel called Liberia's admission "a very important step" for its development, "marking the very end of any potential future financing of the war by blood diamonds."

Liberia had been subject to UN diamond sanctions for six years as a result of its civil war.

The labour-intensive diamond industry is expected to help reduce the rate of unemployment in Liberia, which stands at around 85 percent in what was once one of Africa's most prosperous nations.