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The BBC's Linda Duffin
"The system would be backed up by an international council of regulators"
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Liberian Foreign Minister, Monie Captan
"Liberia is being used as a scapegoat"
 real 28k

The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"Liberia and Burkina Faso have reacted with dismay"
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Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
US threat over illegal diamonds
Diamond dealer with tray of diamonds
The illegal diamond trade funds Sierra Leone's rebels
The United States has threatened sanctions against Liberia and Burkina Faso if they do not end their involvement in illegal diamond and arms trafficking, which Washington says is fuelling the civil war in Sierra Leone.

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, says there is evidence that Liberian President Charles Taylor has personally been taking large commissions for his role as a facilitator of the illegal trade.

The governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso ... are fuelling the wars in Sierra Leone and profiting from the arms-for-diamond trade

Richard Holbrooke

Mr Holbrooke was speaking at a public two-day UN meeting with diamond industry leaders, held to discuss ways of enforcing a UN embargo on trade in gems from rebel-held parts of Sierra Leone.

Both Liberia and Burkina Faso have angrily dismissed the accusations.

Clear cut evidence

The UK Government has also warned Liberia that it faces international sanctions unless it ends its involvement in the smuggling of diamonds from rebel-controlled diamond areas in Sierra Leone.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
Taylor: Accused of accepting commissions
The warning came after talks in London between British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain and Sierra Leone Government spokesman, Professor Septimus Kaikai.

Liberia said that neither the US not the UK had presented any clear-cut evidence that the government in Monrovia was directly involved in the smuggling.

Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan told the BBC that illicit diamond trading had been going on since the 1950s and had nothing to do with the current war.

Burkina Faso's representative said rumours were easy to spread but his country's accusers had not provided any proof.

Sophisticated weapons

But US officials are convinced the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels are profiting from the illegal exploitation of diamonds by $30m-$50m a year.

They say it is using that money to buy increasingly sophisticated weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.

With the representatives of Liberia and Burkina Faso listening, Mr Holbrooke threatened unspecified sanctions if they did not halt their support for the rebels.

A victim of RUF rebels
Civilians bear the brunt of the war
"The governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso, through the actions of their presidents, are fuelling the wars in Sierra Leone and profiting from the arms-for-diamond trade," said Mr Holbrooke.

"I appeal to them to end their support for the Revolutionary United Front and to put a permanent halt to their involvement in the diamonds-for-arms trade," he said.

Correspondents say that, since the abduction and killing of peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, there is little appetite at UN headquarters for observing diplomatic niceties about those believed to be backing the RUF

Impact of sanctions

Ambassador Holbrooke also claimed there was evidence that President Taylor and senior RUF leaders had personally taken large commissions for facilitating diamond and arms transfers.

According to a UK Government official, President Taylor has supplied the RUF with arms, ammunition, fuel and mercenaries.

This war of words is likely to go on, but it appears the UN's squeeze on conflict diamonds is already having an impact.

An industry expert told the sanctions committee that Sierra Leone's rebels were now getting 30% less for their gems than before the UN sanctions on Sierra Leone diamonds were introduced.

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See also:

18 Jul 00 | Africa
Liberia's diamond links
06 Jun 00 | Africa
Liberia implicated in diamond war
28 Jun 00 | Business
'Blood diamonds' crackdown deal
26 May 00 | Africa
Still open for diamond business
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