U.N. panel wants diamond ban on Liberia eventually lifted, arms embargo extended

Liberia has repeatedly violated an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council, according to U.N. experts who recommended that the embargo be maintained on the West African country and extended to include rebel groups, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

In a report to be discussed by the sanctions committee Friday, the panel of experts also said that a ban on diamond trade could be lifted if Liberia set up a credible certification system for its diamonds, the AP reported.

The Security Council slapped a new arms embargo on Liberia in March 2001 and a diamond embargo and travel restrictions in May to punish President Charles Taylor’s gun- and diamond-running operations to with brutal rebels across the border in Sierra Leone.

The council has to review the sanctions before May 7, when they expire.

The diamond ban was imposed to stop the smuggling of diamonds from neighboring Sierra Leone and cut off a key source of revenue for rebels there. The four experts said it has led to the smuggling of rough diamonds from Liberia into Sierra Leone and other neighboring countries.

“The embargo has … reversed the problem in effect with continued smuggling of Liberian rough out of the country and into neighboring certification systems,” the panel reportedly said.

Panel members argued that the risks of Liberia again being a channel for rebel diamonds out of Sierra Leone were minimal since Liberia’s yearly production of gems could be predicted at between $10-15 million per year.

“Any dramatic rise above this level of exports should raise the alarm that the Liberia label is once more being used to launder non-Liberian diamonds,” the experts, who visited Liberia earlier this month, reportedly said.

The report urged the international community to help Taylor’s government set up a “credible and transparent” certification system, the AP reported. The experts also urged the Security Council to shrink the list of those barred from international travel to Cabinet ministers and key members of the government. Currently 129 people are barred from traveling outside the country, although the ban is frequently violated, the report said.

But the experts recommended no easing of the arms embargo, calling instead for it to be expanded to include a ban on arms sales to rebels in the region, the AP reported.

The experts emphasized the need to implement a moratorium on small arms, and a complete embargo on all groups active in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, including the rebel group calling itself the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy, the AP reported.

Liberia has been accused of sponsoring Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels, who killed and maimed tens of thousands in a decade of civil war, which was declared over earlier this year.

In a previous report to the sanctions committee, the experts had said that Liberia was using its maritime fleet-the second largest in the world-to smuggle arms, the AP reported. The committee said it asked during its latest trip to see the accounts of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs, but “was informed that generator had broken down and would only be repaired on a day after the Panel had left Liberia.”

Taylor says the arms embargo prevents the government from properly defending itself against rebels that have pushed their offensive closer to the capital, Monrovia, the AP reported. Attacks over two years have forced tens of thousands of Liberians to flee their homes and villages.