Congo commits to policing ‘conflict diamonds’

Diamond-rich and war-ruined, Congo has signed on to an international policing system meant to stop the illicit trafficking of diamonds for arms, effective Friday, April 19, the Associated Press reported.

Congo’s rebels, who control territory that reaps millions of dollars every year in diamond sales, would be among those shut out by the certification system, international diamond industry leaders told the AP.

Called the Kimberly Process, the system is the diamond industry’s response to growing world attention to so-called “conflict diamonds” fueling wars in Congo and other African countries.

The system is meant to track diamonds from mines to display cases. More than 30 diamond-mining and -trading nations already have signed on.

“Awarding of a Kimberly certificate will make sure in the near future that only countries that have … legitimate production can sell in the world market,” said Mark Van Bockstael of Antwerp’s Diamond High Council (HRD).

Van Bockstael was in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, for a ceremony Friday marking the government’s commitment to the process.

A nation the size of Western Europe, Congo at times of peace has been the world’s third-largest exporter of rough diamonds.

Its soil holds enough diamonds to make for a $700 million trade yearly, international diamond experts estimate. War has cut that to a fraction.

Congolese rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda hold the north and east of the nation, including its second-largest city, Kisangani, a longtime diamond-trading town.

Diamond sales from the rebel-held city alone are believed as high as $50 million a year, Van Bockstael reportedly said.

Countries in the Kimberly Process do not recognize the rebel governments, Van Bockstael reportedly added-saying it should be “absolutely impossible” for the rebels to export diamonds.

In the government-held west and southwest of Congo, smuggling during the war is believed to have sent 400 million dollars a year of diamonds into the black market, Ambroise Mbaka, vice minister of mines, reportedly said.

The Kimberly Process is named for the diamond town in South Africa where discussions on stopping the illegal trade opened last year.

The United Nations last year accused 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 Liberia and by rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone and called for similar action in Congo.