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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Miners defy ban in Sierra Leone
Bangladeshi UN officers watch RUF Lieutenant Raymond Quiesse hands in his AK-47
The rebels are disarming and then returning to the mines
By West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle in eastern Sierra Leone

Illegal diamond mining on a massive scale is taking place in eastern Sierra Leone, despite an agreement between the government and the rebels to stop digging for the gems.

The agreement was aimed at reducing fighting over diamond mines and consolidate a ceasefire between the supporters and the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

However the United Nations peacekeepers appear to have decided that stopping the mining would cause more trouble than allowing it to continue.

The reason is that the miners are former rebels and pro-government militia men who have handed in their guns to the UN and have no other means of survival.

Diamond town

At the moment I am standing in the middle of the far eastern town of Koidu. It really is a diamond mining town in every sense of the word.

We are in the middle of the town, and it has been dug up and turned into a diamond mine.

Buildings have been destroyed and undermined as the sand and gravel have been taken away, and in front of me hundreds of people in the rain are panning for diamonds, sorting through the sand and gravel looking for that small stone that will make all the difference to their lives.

They are not really supposed to be doing this.

There is a theoretical ban on diamond mining which was approved by the government and the rebels, but it seems that a sort of compromise has been reached.

And these men are coming here to disarm to the United Nations, and in return a blind eye is being turned to the diamond mining.

See also:

18 Jul 01 | Africa
Sierra Leone diamond mining ban
10 Aug 01 | Africa
Sierra rebels free child soldiers
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