Diamond ban in Liberia is extended, pending Kimberley review

The United Nations Security Council has renewed all its trade sanctions on Liberia, extending a ban on timber exports until after the country’s first post-war elections in Oct. 2005, but raising the possibility that a ban on diamond exports may be lifted beforehand, Reuters reports.

Its ban on arms exports to Liberia, which was engulfed by civil war from 1989 until 2003, was extended for a further year, Reuters reports.

The Council resolved on Tuesday to extend the ban on Liberia selling raw diamonds for an additional six months. Reuters reports. However it said the ban would be reviewed at the end of March after representatives of the Kimberley Process had visited Liberia to certify that proper controls had been put in place.

The 15-nation Security Council voted unanimously to maintain bans on timber exports for an additional 12 months, although it promised to review the situation after six months.

The United Nations originally imposed these sanctions on Liberia between 2001 and 2003 to stop then-president Charles Taylor from using foreign exchange earnings from timber and diamonds for arms purchases to fuel conflict at home and finance rebel movements in neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

The Liberian civil war finally ended in August 2003 after Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria. And the transitional government, set up to shepherd Liberia to fresh elections, has been pleading for the sanctions to be lifted ever since so that the heavily-forested country can start to rebuild its economy, devastated by 14 years of on-off conflict.

At present, the country is almost completely dependent on foreign aid.

“Premature lifting of sanctions at this time would threaten re-emergence of armed conflict,” U.S. diplomat Stuart Holliday reportedly said in a statement after the U.N.’s decision.

Council members reportedly said the transitional government, which is comprised of members from the war’s three armed factions and civilian groups, had not made enough progress in ensuring that revenues from timber and gem exports would benefit Liberia’s three million inhabitants and not just line the pockets of certain individuals.