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Nations Move Closer to Ending Trade in 'Conflict Diamonds' - 2002-11-05

Countries involved in the diamond industry have agreed on rules to end the production, sale, and trade of so-called "blood diamonds" used to finance conflicts. The agreement, that becomes effective January first, was reached at a conference in Switzerland.

Representatives from 45 countries met in Interlaken, Switzerland to devise a certification system to ensure diamonds mined and sold are not used to pay for war.

The so-called "Kimberley Process," begun in South Africa two years ago, has set down legally binding rules for governments and the gem industry. All but six countries agreed to launch the process by January 1.

Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Japan, Malta, Thailand and Ukraine said they need more time before they can sign on.

Action Aid is one of several activist groups working to stop the flow of the diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds. The organization's spokeswoman, Amboka Wameyo, attended the Interlaken conference and says the new rules built-in economic incentives designed to ensure compliance.

"The incentive to be part of the Kimberley Process is that from January any government that is trading without certifying that their diamonds are "conflict-free" will not have a market. Within the industry, any industry-person, organization found trading in "conflict diamonds" will face a loss of sales because the public will be encouraged not to buy from chains that are not implementing the Kimberley Process," he said.

A recent U.N. study found that Angola earned one million dollars a day from the production and sale of conflict diamonds. Such diamonds have also fueled wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, Ms. Wameyo says U.N. sanctions on Angola and Sierra Leone have led both countries to set up strict guidelines ensuring diamonds are untainted.

Swiss diplomat Othmar Wyss said Switzerland and other countries are hopeful that the Kimberley Process will have an impact. "It is too early to say. Conflict diamonds only constitute four percent of diamond trade. I think within the next 12 months we might know more if we can really contribute to at least reduce the flow of conflict diamonds," Mr. Wyss said.

Ms. Wameyo of Action Aid has said there are still some concerns about monitoring the Kimberley Process. She says an independent monitoring system needs to be put into place and production statistics must be accurately checked to ensure conflict diamonds are no longer marketed.