updated 9/13/2007 7:16:35 PM ET 2007-09-13T23:16:35

A 494-carat diamond, believed to be the 18th largest in the world, has been found at a mine in Lesotho, a government official said Thursday.

The stone was a white diamond of exceptional quality, said Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki. It has been sent to Antwerp, Belgium, for auction.

The diamond was found at the Lets’eng Diamond Mine, situated high in Lesotho’s mountains.

The Lesotho Promise, a 603-carat stone, was uncovered last year at the same mine and sold for $12.3 million. A 215-carat flawless diamond found in January 2007 brought $8.3 million.

“This recovery adds more to the chapter of excellence for this mine internationally,” said a visibly elated Moleleki.

The Lets’eng Diamond Mine is 30 percent owned by the government of Lesotho and 70 percent by a private company, Gem Diamonds.

The largest diamond ever found, the Cullinan, was the size of a bowling ball at 3,106 carats in the rough. That finished stone is set in Britain’s Imperial Sceptre as part of the Crown Jewels.

Lesotho is a mountainous country in southern Africa ravaged by high unemployment, poverty and AIDS.

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