LIBERIA: Government ban on diamond mining continues despite UN go-ahead

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Two months after the United Nations lifted a six-year ban on Liberia exporting diamonds the government has still not legalised diamond mining.

"Right now people shouldn’t start mining until certain mechanisms are in place to ensure transparency," Liberia’s deputy minister for lands and mines Ernest Jones recently told IRIN.

Jones said the government needs to ensure that controls are in place to manage what has been a corrupt and conflict-prone industry. The controls include reissuing licences to prospective miners and deploying government officials to monitor the extraction, transport and sale of all stones, he said.

The government says it is setting up a network of 10 regional diamond monitoring offices.

The UN Security Council lifted the embargo on Liberian diamond exports on 27 April, applauding the government’s ongoing efforts to implement the international certification scheme known as the Kimberly Process.

NGOs support the UN decision while backing the government's cautious approach."If things were to start too early systems of control wouldn’t be water tight," said Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner with the London-based group Global Witness.

She said the Liberian government must be able to apply the certification process to ensure that diamonds never again fuel conflict in the region. "A strong system of control in the diamond trade is crucial for security not only in Liberia but in the region as a whole," she added.

Trafficking in diamonds and other natural resources in Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone was seen as fuelling those countries' civil wars in the 1990s.

But Dunnebacke and other experts are concerned that some illegal mining continues today, most of which takes place in remote areas with little government control.

Not all the mining leads to violence or even corruption, she added. "Some people are engaged in subsistence mining," she said. They may well try to resist government controls unless they see benefits from the diamond trade being legalized.

Deputy Minister Jones said the government is doing everything it can to ensure the diamond industry benefits the population. "Money from every diamond exported from Liberia will be used to develop social services in communities where diamonds are mined and not to fuel conflicts as was the case in the past."

He said communities would get a portion of taxes on all diamonds extracted from their areas and mining companies would be obliged to build projects to assist in the development of local populations.

People living in diamond-rich areas also say they don’t want to go back to the bad old days when diamonds were being extracted with no benefit to them. "We would reject extraction of diamonds by any group unless they can guarantee they will build us schools, hospitals, and roads," said Boima Pussah, a youth leader in the diamond-rich Gola Konneh district in north-western Liberia.

Alhaji Momoh Pussah, a village elder in the region, also said his community has been exploited long enough. "Gone are the days when people can just come here and take our resources. We will not accept it anymore," he said.


Source: IRIN
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