updated 12/20/2006 10:24:12 PM ET 2006-12-21T03:24:12

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to keep a ban on Liberian diamond exports, an arms embargo on the country, a travel ban on named individuals and an asset freeze against former President Charles Taylor and his top officials.

A resolution adopted by the council welcomed “the sustained progress” by the government since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in January in the West African nation’s first step toward stable, democratic government after years of war. But it concluded that “insufficient progress has been made” to lift sanctions.

The Security Council had promised in June that it would consider lifting the embargo if the Liberian government set up an international program to certify the origin of the country’s gems. But a U.N. Panel of Experts found that more needs to be done.

The counciI welcomed the government’s continuing cooperation with the Kimberley Process, a voluntary 71-nation group created out of the furor over diamond-funded wars in Sierra Leone and Angola. The group, whose members agree to trade only certified diamonds, has helped conflict diamonds drop to less than 1 percent of those sold worldwide, from about 4 percent previously.

National security emphasized
The council emphasized the importance of improving security throughout Liberia, especially in dimond and timber-producing areas and border regions.

It expressed determination to support the Liberian government’s efforts to meet the conditions so sanctions can be lifted.

The resolution extends the arms embargo and travel ban for a year and the diamond ban for six months with a review by the Security Council after four months. That will “allow the government of Liberia sufficient time to establish an effective certificate of origin regime for trade in Liberian rough diamonds that is transparent and internationally verifiable, with a view to joining the Kimberley Process,” it said.

The Security Council imposed arms and diamond embargoes on Liberia in May 2001 to stop government revenues from those industries from being used to fuel civil war.

The council said the asset freeze against Taylor, his immediate family members, in particular his wife Jewell Howard Taylor and son Charles Taylor Jr., senior officials of his regime and other close allies would remain in force and be reviewed at least once a year.

Any sanctions can be reviewed once the government reports that conditions to end the measures have been met and provides the necessary documentation, the resolution said.

President calls for end to ban
Sirleaf argued in a May 24 letter to the council that sanctions limiting the trade of diamonds, arms and timber — and restricting the travel of designated individuals — were stunting the country’s economy and were no longer needed.

She said the government would not be able to fight poverty effectively without the economically significant diamond and timber industries.

The council lifted timber sanctions in June.

Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria in August 2003, paving the way for elections which Sirleaf won. He was arrested in late March and is now in custody of a U.N.-backed war crimes court facing charges of crimes against humanity.

Last week, a federal judge in Miami denied bail for Charles Taylor Jr., who was indicted last week on U.S. torture charges stemming from his time as head of a security force in his father’s government.

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