U.N. extends ban on Liberia

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend a ban on Liberia’s diamond exports for six months because the government was unable to prevent illegal gem sales from fueling wars among its West African neighbors, Reuters reports.

In a British-drafted resolution, the council also urged Liberia’s transitional government to consider “external” independent advice to manage its diamond and timber resources and thereby “increase investor confidence,” Reuters reports.

The council banned Liberian diamond exports after finding that former Liberian President Charles Taylor was fomenting civil war in the region, especially in Sierra Leone, through an illicit trade in guns for gems and other natural resources.

An arms and timber embargo remains in force until Dec. 21 along with travel and assets freeze against Taylor, now in exile in Nigeria, and his family and associates.

The resolution expressed concern at the government’s “limited progress” in “establishing transparent financial management systems that will help ensure that government revenues are not used to fuel conflicts,” Reuters reports. It also notes with “serious concern” the increase in Liberia of unlicensed mining and illegal diamond exports, the absence of government control over diamond-producing areas, and “the lack of transparency” in the authorities’ recent decision to grant extensive exclusive mining rights to a single firm.

Liberia’s interim government, installed to run the country until democratic elections due in October, has repeatedly urged the council to end the ban to boost the ailing economy. The United Nations has 15,000 peacekeepers in the country.

But a panel of U.N. experts reported in March that Liberian authorities had secretly signed a deal with the West Africa Mining Corp., or WAMCO, a new company 90% backed by the London International Bank Ltd., a private investment firm.

The deal would give WAMCO a de facto monopoly over much of Liberia’s diamond-producing regions and preclude other dealers from competing for diamond purchases, the experts reportedly said.

It was arranged through Liberia’s ambassador to Nigeria, Martin George, even though the Security Council had imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on George because of his ties to Taylor.

On Taylor, the resolution reportedly expressed “deep concern” at reports that he and his associates “continue to engage in activities that undermine peace and stability in Liberia and the region.”

But the council did not ask for Taylor to be extradited to a special war crimes court in Sierra Leone, which has indicted him, Reuters reports. His exile agreement prevents him from being handed over to the court, providing he refrains from meddling in Liberian affairs.

However, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reportedly told the council recently that Taylor was reported to be in regular contact with former business, military, and political associates.

Annan’s report reportedly said Taylor was “suspected of sponsoring a variety of presidential candidates, with a view to ensuring that the next Liberian government will include his sympathizers.”

Nigeria has refused to expel him until violations of his exile terms are proven.

In Sierra Leone, Taylor is accused of arming brutal rebels, who seized control of diamond-producing areas in the 1990s. They become notorious for murder, rape and hacking off the limbs of men, women and children.