NAMIBIA hosts meet on 'blood diamonds'

WINDHOEK: Diamond-producing nations open a meeting Tuesday to review global efforts to prevent trade in the gems from fuelling conflicts, with an eye on alleged abuses in Zimbabwe and Venezuela's recent suspension.

An international scheme known as the Kimberley Process, named after a South African mining town, was launched in 2003 with the aim of curbing the flow of "blood diamonds" into the mainstream market.

Namibia, which currently heads the process, is hosting the three-day meeting to deliberate on efforts to further curb the illegal diamond trade blamed for financing wars in developing countries.

About 200 delegates are attending the meeting in the Namibian capital, where roads were blocked around the hotel with heavy security for the closed-door talks.

The Kimberley scheme aims to certify diamonds to prove to buyers that they are not linked to violent conflicts. But rights groups have already sounded the alarm over possible violations of the pact in Zimbabwe, while Venezuela recently withdrew for two years to address concerns about its compliance with the regime.

"The clock is running out on Kimberley Process credibility," said Annie Dunnebacke of the London-based Global Witness, which monitors the exploitation of natural resources.

"The work it was set up to do is vital — it would be scandalous if uncooperative governments and industry succeeded in hobbling it into ineffectiveness."

Global Witness has pointed to worries over smuggling, money laundering and human rights abuses in the world's alluvial diamond fields. In Zimbabwe, the Kimberley Process is preparing a new report into claims of government-led human rights abuse in diamond mining areas, as well as smuggling and weak internal controls.

Kimberley officials visited Zimbabwe in March to express concern to authorities over the allegations. The World Federation of Diamond Bourses in April banned the sale of diamonds from the eastern Zimbabwean region of Marange, after authorities sealed off the area to allow a state-run firm to gather the gems amid reports that small-scale miners were forcibly evicted. Venezuela agreed in September 2008 to suspend its diamond trade until new control systems could be established, after it stopped reporting its production and exports in 2005.

Most diamond mining in the South American country is conducted by small-scale miners who are supposed to belong to cooperatives that submit monthly reports to authorities. The rights group Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) sent a mission to Venezuela in May and found that diamonds are still being mined and smuggled into legitimate markets with the knowledge of authorities, despite the suspension.

"In condoning the status quo, the Kimberley Process has become an active party in an overt diamond smuggling enterprise," PAC said in its report. Other countries of concern were Lebanon and Guinea, which were exporting significantly more gem-quality rough diamonds than they import, Global Witness said. Guinea has seen a 500 percent increase in its exports over just two years, the group said.

The Kimberley Process emerged from global outrage over conflicts in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. In back-to-back conflicts in those nations from 1989 to 2003, rivals plundered Liberia's wood and diamond resources to purchase the arms they used to wage war in a conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Now the Kimberley Process covers about 99.8% of the world's production of rough diamonds, with 49 members representing 75 countries working within the scheme. Under Kimberley, rough diamonds are sealed in tamper-resistant containers and required to have forgery-resistant, conflict-free certificates with unique serial numbers each time they cross an international border. -The Times of India

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