Liberia loses 'blood diamonds' label

Story Highlights
"¢ U.N. Security Council recognizes progress on sourcing of gems
"¢ Former president used diamond income to finance wars
"¢ Liberia can now join Kimberley Process, which monitors gem trade
"¢ Decision could help economy in Liberia, where 85 percent are unemployed

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to lift a ban on Liberian diamond exports imposed in 2001 when so-called "blood diamonds" were being used to fuel civil wars in west Africa.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, the current council president, said the vote was "a recognition of the progress made in Liberia" to ensure diamonds are mined legally.

The vote is "a reflection of our confidence in that country, in its leadership," Jones Parry said.

Liberia applied March 27 to join the Kimberley Process, a voluntary 71-nation group created out of the furor over diamond-funded wars in Sierra Leone and Angola.

The group, whose members agree to trade only certified diamonds, has helped conflict diamonds drop to less than 1 percent of those sold worldwide, from about 4 percent previously.

After the vote, Liberia's U.N. Ambassador Nathaniel Barnes said he had just learned that the Kimberley committee was going to accept Liberia's application as a result of the council's action, "so as of now, we are officially a part of the Kimberley Process."

Barnes called the council's decision to lift the ban "a vote of confidence ... (and) support of our very strong political will to do the right thing for Liberia and Liberians."

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf inherited one of the world's poorest countries when she took office in January 2006. Liberia had been battered by back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 that left 200,000 people dead and displaced half the country's 3 million people.

Her government has pressed for the lifting of the diamond sanctions imposed in May 2001 to stop former President Charles Taylor from using government revenues from diamonds to fuel civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

"We welcome the lifting of the sanctions because it will, to some extent, provide job opportunities for our people," said Sirleaf spokesman Cyrus Badio. "This is something that we are in bad need of. Proceeds from the diamond industry will be used for the benefit of the country."

Barnes said he expects the lifting of diamond sanctions to have an "incredibly positive" impact because it will provide jobs in a country with an 85 percent unemployment rate.

"Anywhere on the globe, that's unacceptable, but it's further exacerbated by the fact that a large portion of these unemployed are ex-combatants," he said. "So by the removal of the sanctions on diamonds, and the appropriate monitoring mechanisms in place, we'll be able to put people to work, which is one of the biggest challenges we have right now."

Historically, Liberia has used very old technology -- sifting surface soil and sand with pans -- to find diamonds, "but we think with new technology there's incredible potential for Liberia," Barnes said.

That will take foreign capital, he said, because "we do not have the resources domestically to do it."

The Security Council said it would review its decision to lift diamond sanctions in 90 days after reviewing a report by a U.N. panel of monitors.

"This is an example of sanctions working and we're pleased that Liberia has turned this corner in its history," said the U.S. Mission's deputy spokesman, Ben Chang.

Liberia is still subject to an arms embargo, a travel ban on certain individuals, and an asset freeze against Taylor and his top officials.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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