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Diamonds Finance Wars Throughout Africa

Every year the gemstone industry spends millions of dollars on advertising to reinforce the romance and appeal of diamonds. But behind the glamour, there is a darker story--one of smuggling and the illegal trade in "blood diamonds."

Sierra Leone is struggling to recover from a ten-year civil war. During the conflict, rebels seized control of the diamond mines. The rebels then used money from the diamond sales to buy weapons. Customers who ultimately purchased the gems from diamond traders may not have known they were buying "blood diamonds" – the products of war.

Sierra Leone was not the only country trafficking in "blood diamonds." Diamonds from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, were also used to finance wars throughout Africa.

Today, in Kono, in eastern Sierra Leone, rich and fertile land goes unused. Farmers have abandoned the fields to dig for diamonds. There may be a million miners in the country--almost all of them are unlicensed. Former rebels work side-by-side with the civilians they once terrorized--all of them hoping to strike it rich.

Hassan Banguri, a government mining officer says, "In central Kono, diamonds is a part of their life. They dream diamonds, they eat diamonds, they think diamonds, wherever you go, they talk about diamonds."

Today, all Sierra Leone's diamonds are supposed to go through the Government Diamond office and be subject to tax. Lawrence Myers, who runs the office says occasionally, a spectacular gem will pass through his office. He says, "That stone would vary from one-million to one-point-five million dollars."

The diamond will earn only $30,000 in export taxes. But many diamond traders in Sierra Leone will not pay any taxes, instead they will smuggle the diamonds out of the country.

Alex Yearsley is with Global Witness, a non-governmental investigative group. He says, "The diamond industry is the most perfectly set up industry for smuggling. They were made for each other. A small, highly portable, high value product. There is virtually no orifice on a person's body that you can't stick a diamond. There's no piece of equipment you can't stick a diamond into."

Smuggled diamonds can find their way into the pipeline that once handled "blood diamonds." Many of the people who financed the civil war are still in business. And once the stones reach Antwerp, Belgium, a diamond center, no one knows if they are smuggled blood diamonds, or legally clean.