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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 16:47 GMT
Mali's diamond-smuggling centre
Sikasso's main bus station

By Celeste Hicks
BBC Network Africa, Sikasso

Mali's south-eastern town of Sikasso is the perfect transit point for diamonds smuggled out of Ivory Coast.

Diamonds from Mali's southern neighbour have been subject to UN sanctions - renewed this week for a further 12 months - as a consequence of its recent civil war.

But a leaked UN report says the conflict gems are still getting onto the market, with Mali posited as the most likely route.

In Sikasso's main bus station, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Ivory Coast.

Shopkeeper Suleiman Diallo
There are people here who do this work, taking the diamonds from Ivory Coast to Mali
Shopkeeper Suleiman Diallo

About 100km (62 miles) from the border, all the ticket offices advertise buses running to Bouake and Abidjan in Ivory Coast; Ivorian flags are painted everywhere and cafes named after Ivorian towns.

At first people were reluctant to discuss diamond-smuggling allegations.

But after just a few minutes, a group of people who had just arrived from the Ivorian mining town of Seguela spoke about what they knew.

"Often you find diamonds in transit here, which have come from Seguela, passing through to Mali's capital. When they get to Bamako there are certain businessmen there who send them to western countries," one man said.

There are many Ivorian people in Sikasso who moved because of the war.

Suleiman Diallo spent several years working in Seguela's diamond mine at Seguela, but left in 2002 and now owns a small shop.

I asked him if he knew anything about the route diamonds might take.

"There are lots of vehicles that come from Ivory Coast because its an easy route to take," he said.

"There are people here who do this work, taking the diamonds from Ivory Coast to Mali, but it's not a lot of people you know."

Evidence

No-one I interviewed had actually ever seen a diamond, and most people said the number of people coming through the town involved in the trade was small.

The law of Mali takes very seriously its responsibility to suppress fraudulent exportation
Mohamed Keita
Adviser to the mines minister

But there was an interesting similarity between the stories.

The UN report says all the people they interviewed in the Ivorian mines confirmed that diamonds are being shipped to Mali, but the team were not able to visit Mali itself to investigate.

So what do the Malian government know about it?

"You know that it's a very complex phenomenon. Officially the Malian government is not implicated in this operation," says Mohamed Keita, technical adviser to the minister of mines, water and energy.

"There are perhaps some Malian nationals who are involved in this diamond business. But there is nothing official; the state has no official understanding of this."

map

Sidi Haidara, the divisional commander of Interpol in Mali, also said had "no information relating to such trafficking".

Next week in Brussels the annual meeting of the Kimberley Process - the conflict-diamond watchdog - is being held.

Mr Keita will be travelling there at the organisation's invitation and is hoping to make Mali a member of the diamond-certification process.

"If we have proof that these things are happening, the Malian state will apply the law of Mali," he said.

"And the law of Mali takes very seriously its responsibility to suppress fraudulent exportation."

SEE ALSO
Country profile: Mali
18 Jul 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ivory Coast
21 Jul 07 |  Country profiles

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