Countries agree on diamond controls

Representatives from 34 countries meeting in Moscow approved the basics Thursday of a system for keeping track of what mines diamonds come from and curbing the illicit trade in “conflict diamonds” from Africa, the Associated Press reported.

Nchakha Moloi, a special adviser of South Africa’s ministry of minerals and energy, told reporters at the end of the two-day conference that the system is not expected to hike costs or make diamonds more expensive for consumers, the AP reported.

The diamond industry is eager to clean up an image tarnished by revelations of how black market diamonds, also called blood diamonds, are funding some of Africa’s most brutal conflicts. It initiated talks on how to stop the illegal trade in Kimberley, South Africa, in May 2000.

Moloi, speaking at a news conference, said the system involved using a certificate that would accompany uncut diamonds from the mine, the AP reported. Russian representatives to the meeting presented a model certificate and container.

According to the plan, government agencies in diamond-producing and diamond-trading nations will issue internationally recognized certificates to confirm the stone’s origin. Currently, diamond trading only requires a certificate stating what country the diamond was last exported from, not where it was mined.

The AP reported that the new system will require a “monitoring mechanism” that the countries plan to discuss when they next meet in London in September, Moloi said.

The meetings are being attended by representatives of governments and the European commission along with industry officials and non-governmental organizations.

Last December, the U.N. General Assembly strongly backed efforts to develop an international mechanism to trace the origin of all rough diamonds on the world market. Participants in the series of meetings, dubbed the Kimberly process, have promised to present their proposals to the United Nations in the fall.

Conflict diamonds represent just 4% of the world production of uncut diamonds, according to Moloi. But the money involved can have a large effect on poor, political unstable countries, the AP reported.

Gems worth millions of dollars can be smuggled out of the countries in a shirt pocket.

“For small diamond-producing countries, the fact that their national wealth is not only slipping away from the hands of the legitimate governments but is being used to fight them is of enormous importance,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov, who co-chaired the Moscow meeting, told the AP.

The United Nations last year published a report accusing the presidents of Burkina Faso and Togo of accepting diamonds from Angola’s UNITA rebels in exchange for weapons or fuel. It has banned diamond exports by rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone and called for similar action in Congo.

Black market diamonds have been described as key to the 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone, where tens of thousands of people have been killed.