updated 12/7/2006 3:52:02 PM ET 2006-12-07T20:52:02

Rebels holding the north of war-divided Ivory Coast deny dealing in blood diamonds despite allegations by United Nations experts that they reap millions of dollars from illegal gem sales.

The West African state, carved in two since a 2002 uprising, is regarded by watchdogs as the last remaining place where illicit diamonds are being used to fuel a rebellion, after civil wars ended in Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A report by a U.N. panel of experts in October said diamonds were being smuggled from the rebel territory mainly through Ghana, violating a U.N. embargo on exports and generating revenue of between $9 million and $23 million.

Rebels deny profiting from diamond sales
Moussa Dosso, the rebel administration’s economy minister, said allegations that foreign buyers were present in the north could be true but he said diamond mining was undertaken by civilians who pocketed all of the proceeds.

“We can’t stop people selling (diamonds) as they have done for 40 or 50 years. The question has been whether the New Forces (rebels) were involved,” said Dosso, who is also trade minister in a national reconciliation government grouping the rebels and the elected government.

“We don’t get a penny from the revenue from diamonds ... There are terrible expressions like 'war diamonds' which we contest,” he told Reuters in an interview in his office at the top of one of the economic capital Abidjan’s many skyscrapers.

The rebels say they use revenue from taxes on cocoa, cotton and timber produced in their zone to fund their movement. Dosso said the Ivorian gems could not be classed as conflict diamonds because the rebels were not making money from them.

“When we talk of violations of the Kimberley agreement it is when the resources exploited are used to buy arms. Not us. We don’t exploit them,” he said.

Tighter checks 
The Kimberley Process Certification System was launched in 2002 to verify the origin of gems and exclude conflict diamonds from the market. Campaigners have criticised its controls as ineffective and have demanded loopholes be closed.

A Hollywood film “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio to be released this week has revived the debate on Africa’s illegal gems. DiCaprio plays a mercenary jailed for smuggling in Sierra Leone’s devastating 1991-2002 civil war.

A report by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), an observer in the Kimberley Process, said conflict-sourced diamonds now account for less than 1 percent of gems going on sale, down from around 15 percent in the mid-1990s.

Nevertheless, the diamond industry fears Christmas sales may be hit by negative publicity likely to arise from the film.

The U.N. group which drafted the Ivory Coast report remains adamant that diamond revenues are going to the rebels.

“There is no doubt that they are benefiting from their diamond production,” said Agim Debruycker, author of the section of the report relating to diamonds. “It was clear from our visits ... that (rebel) soldiers were running around and organizing the whole thing.”

A grouping of 46 governments and the European Union last month threatened to expel Ghana from the Kimberley Process over allegations it was certifying diamonds from Ivory Coast because its lax controls failed to intercept trafficked gems.

Ghanaian exports now have to be approved by an expert from the World Diamond Council during a three-month probationary period during which it will strengthen monitoring mechanisms.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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