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Congo's Diamond Industry Let Back Into Kimberly Process

The Republic of Congo has rejoined the Kimberly Process, a global watchdog group designed to stop the flow of conflict diamonds. Analysts say the move shows controls on the diamond trade in the country are improving, but warn that there is still much to be done to regulate the diamond industry, both in Congo and around the world. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

"This is very, very important for our country," said Alain Akouala, Congo's communication minister. He said the move, which makes it possible for Congo to export diamonds worldwide, will boost Congo's business community.

"This country has an important economic potential and we need to do business, we need to build up our country," he added.

The Kimberley Process was established with diamond industry backing in late 2002. The effort came in response to growing world concern about so-called "blood diamonds" that fueled and funded the bloody 1990s conflicts in Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Republic of Congo was kicked out of the Kimberly Process (KP) in 2004 after it was found that it had smuggled from surrounding nations the majority of its diamonds it was putting on the market each year through Europe and the Middle East.

Akouala says new controls have been introduced so that diamonds can now be easily be tracked and the industry regulated.

Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner for London-based watchdog Global Witness, says the KP decision shows that Congo has come a long way. But she says there is still great potential for illicit trade in the region, where porous borders and weak controls remain a problem.

"You have situations where although the government has taken steps to step up border control, for instance, or to train customs officials - you have situations where controls still are not strong enough," she said. "So we will have to keep an eye out and make sure that the borders are strong enough and that diamonds are not being smuggled in or out of the Republic of Congo."

Dunnebacke says KP has served as an important tool for regulating the diamond trade since its launch in 2002, but that there is still much to be done to make regulation effective.

"There is a serious lack of political will in terms of governments agreeing to have proper oversight over their industry, and I think there is also a lack of will on the part of the industry to self regulate the way they should, so there is a lot of work still to be done on the KP to make it effective," she added.

She says there are a few very problematic loopholes in the system. She says, for example, KP only regulates rough diamonds, not those that are polished. "One of the major loop-holes that you can find is conflict or illicit diamonds could be smuggled directly into a cutting or polishing center and come out the other end and have completely escaped KP controls," she explained.

The European Union hosted the four-day Kimberly Process meeting in Brussels. The multi-national body says the Kimberly Process is becoming increasingly effective in the fight against conflict diamonds.

More than 80 percent of the world's rough diamonds pass through the EU, via the Belgium port city Antwerp.