updated 7/28/2007 9:32:15 PM ET 2007-07-29T01:32:15

The Liberian government said Saturday it had lifted a six-year moratorium on the diamond trade, put in place after former President Charles Taylor was accused of using “blood diamonds” to fuel civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Minister Kpandeh Fayia told The Associated Press that “as of Monday, people can start applying for mining, selling and broker licenses” for diamonds.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Liberia’s diamonds in May 2001 and, to comply with the sanctions, the Liberian government placed a moratorium on all mining.

Liberia’s civil strife ended in 2003 with Taylor’s ouster. As part of a peace deal, he went into exile in Nigeria.

The U.N. lifted the sanctions in late April, citing Liberia’s efforts to meet the conditions of an international program that certifies the diamonds’ origin to ensure they were mined legally.

In early May, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally opened 10 diamond screening and evaluation offices.

Johnson Sirleaf — who became Africa’s first elected woman leader in January 2006 — inherited one of the world’s poorest countries, battered by the 1989-2003 civil wars from that left 200,000 people dead, and displaced half the country’s 3 million people.

Liberian officials hope a restored diamond trade will provide jobs in a country with an 85 percent unemployment rate.

Overtures to oversight group
Liberia’s export industry has been dominated by rubber and timber, with diamonds a smaller component. Government officials estimated that, before the imposition of sanctions, about $600,000 worth of the gems were smuggled out of the country annually, with very little going through legal export channels.

Liberia submitted its application in March to join the Kimberley Process, a voluntary 71-nation group created out of the furor over diamond-funded wars in Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Members agree to trade only certified diamonds. Last month, Liberia attended a meeting as a full Kimberley Process member for the first time.

Taylor faces war crimes charges at a U.N.-backed court in The Hague stemming from his alleged backing of Sierra Leone’s rebels, who terrorized victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips.

Both Taylor’s forces and rebel fighters were charged with looting Liberia’s small diamond reserves to buy arms, along with smuggling gems from Sierra Leone’s more expansive diamond fields for export through Liberian ports.

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