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Liberia relaunches diamond trade 

Liberia relaunched its diamond trade on Tuesday after the United Nations lifted an embargo, hoping the revival of the industry will fund reconstruction rather than lead to more bloodshed.
/ Source: Reuters

Liberia relaunched its diamond trade on Tuesday after the United Nations lifted an embargo, hoping the revival of the industry will fund reconstruction rather than lead to more bloodshed.

Trade in rough diamonds from river beds and mud pits in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone was a major factor in intertwined civil wars that killed a quarter of a million people in this corner of West Africa during the 1990s.

A network of 10 government offices is being set up to ensure diamonds are certified under the “Kimberley Process,” an industry-led monitoring scheme designed to prevent the illicit sale of gems from conflict areas, known as “blood diamonds.”

“It is our responsibility to ensure that we do not return to violence, and let us all work towards this process,” said President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, elected in 2005 more than two years after President Charles Taylor went into exile.

Taylor is now in a cell in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes over his alleged role in fomenting war in Sierra Leone.

The U.N. Security Council lifted a six-year ban on Liberian diamond exports on Friday, saying the government had acted to meet the Kimberley requirements. It said it would review the decision in 90 days in the light of Liberia’s compliance.

“We have to ensure that we comply with all the conditions set by the U.N.,” Johnson-Sirleaf said at a ceremony to open the first of 10 government diamond offices — a white-painted shipping container in the former diamond trading center of Tubmanburg, 50 miles north of the capital Monrovia.

“Government officials too many times have used their authority improperly. We are going to ensure that these things do not happen,” she said.

Rebuilding Liberia 
Conflict diamonds are blamed for fuelling and financing wars in countries across Africa, including Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo, and inspired the 2006 film set in Sierra Leone and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond.

Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained former World Bank economist and Africa’s first elected female head of state, acted out selling a diamond with representatives of the United Nations and longstanding ally Washington, a U.N. spokesman said.

There was no room in the cramped container for journalists to watch.

Johnson-Sirleaf left to open the main office in Monrovia.

The end of the U.N. diamond embargo marks another step towards rebuilding Liberia, founded in 1847 by freed slaves from America, after years of fighting and looting.

The rubber industry has begun to recover and the Senate approved a $1 billion iron ore mining contract on Monday with leading steel producer Arcelor Mittal that should revive what was once the world’s fifth-biggest iron ore export industry.