The government of Ghana has agreed to cooperate with international efforts to step up surveillance on the alleged sale of so-called conflict diamonds mined and transported from  Ivory Coast.  The understanding was reached at a recent meeting in Gaborone, Botswana of a UN-mandated body known as the Kimberley Process.  African and diamond-consuming nations set up the group three years ago to curb illicit trading of the precious stones to finance wars in Africa. 

Ian Smillie is research coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada, a non-governmental civil society group that supports development efforts in African countries. After attending last week?s Gaborone meeting as an observer, Smillie says that although investigators have spotted a trail of suspicious transactions, Ghanaian diamond dealers are maintaining their innocence.

?Ghana has not accepted the finding that there are conflict diamonds from Ivory Coast, and I think they hope to show that that hasn?t been the case.  But what they?ve agreed to is that after next Friday (November 17), they won?t ship any diamonds without independent professional oversight.  And that?s being offered by the World Diamond Council, an expert that would come to Ghana every couple of weeks to have a look at the shipments and see whether or not they are Ghanaian or something else.  The difference between Ghanaian and Ivoirian diamonds is quite clear,? he said.

Smillie notes that it is difficult to trace how the precious stones that are mined in rebel-held parts of Ivory Coast make their way onto world markets.  But, he says, it is clear that a trafficking pattern is in operation.

?It?s not clear who?s actually moving the diamonds out of the area ? whether it?s just business people or the Forces Nouvelles or others that might be using the proceeds to buy weapons.  This is a good example of the problem of porous borders and countries that don?t have very good systems of control.  It isn?t unique to Ghana.  You have the same problem in Togo. Certainly in Sierra Leone, in Guinea.  Liberia, certainly, if and when it comes back into the Kimberley Process.  What?s happened in places like the Congo and Sierra Leone and Angola is a very clear connection between rebel forces occupying diamond mining areas and their ability to prosecute a war to buy weapons,? he said.

Ian Smillie says that the effectiveness of the Kimberley Process in halting the proliferation of conflict stones cannot yet be measured in the three years since its inception.  But he notes that Kimberley, named for the town  in South Africa where the controls were devised, has spurred greater worldwide attention and international commitment to stop the illicit traffic and fueling of regional wars.

?The wars in Angola and Sierra Leone and the Congo ended for a variety of reasons.  But certainly the rebels, who were dependent on guns that were purchased with diamonds were feeling the pressure.  The wars ended before the Kimberley Process actually began, and so you can?t say that the Kimberley Process did it.  But the very fact of discussion of this sort and the spotlight that was coming onto the diamond industry, I think, certainly helped.  The Kimberley process, though, is not just about ending wars.  It?s about preventing this kind of thing ever happening again,? he said. 

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