Sierra Leone diamond exports set record

Sierra Leone exported a record $22 million worth of diamonds in June, the highest ever monthly figure as it fights to stamp out the illicit trade in blood gems which fuelled its civil war, a government minister reportedly said.

Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Deen told Reuters official diamond exports for the first six months of the year had already reached around $76 million, roughly the same amount as exported in the whole of 2003.

“Though diamond smuggling continues to take place in Sierra Leone, the government’s determination has succeeded in reducing it,” Deen reportedly said in an interview in the capital Freetown on Monday.

Official diamond exports from the former British colony were worth just $10 million five years ago as rebels and government forces fought for control of mines in one of the most brutal civil wars in Africa’s recent history.

The conflict killed 50,000 people before being declared over in 2002 after the intervention of a 17,500-strong U.N. peacekeeping force.

Government revenues from diamonds have risen following the removal of a U.N. ban on gem exports—which had helped to pay for weapons during the war—but the U.N. reportedly says that there is still work to be done on the management of the industry.

“It’s estimated the diamond trade is worth between $300 and $500 million so a lot of work still needs to be done,” U.N. mission chief Daudi Ngelautwa Mwakawago reportedly told a news conference on regional peacekeeping in Dakar last week, referring to official and unofficial trade in Sierra Leone.

Deen reportedly said that $500 million was too high a figure.

Deen also told Reuters that a rise in the price per carat for Sierra Leonean diamonds—to just under $280 over the first six months of 2005 compared to $194 over 2004 as a whole—showed the country’s gems were good quality and were being marketed appropriately.