Sanctions for diamond traffickers, urges UK

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The Independent Online

Britain and Canada urged the UN Security Council yesterday to impose sanctions against countries accused in a United Nations report of openly violating an embargo against the diamond trafficking of Angola's Unita rebels.

France opposed taking harsh action and Belgium, accused of allowing the greed of its diamond dealers to fuel the war in Angola, joined several African governments in criticising the report.

The diamond dealers of Antwerp are listed alongside Bulgarian arms dealers and two African presidents as the main culprits in the continuing conflict between the Angolan government and Unita (the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola).

The report, which took six months to compile and was released this week, examines how Unita has successfully circumvented UN sanctions - first imposed in 1993 - by buying weapons, mainly from Bulgaria, shipping them to friendly African countries, and paying for them with diamonds from the mines it controls in Angola.

Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office minister, said key recommendations in the report, including arms embargoes and other measures against sanctions violators, had to be pursued. "We need to ensure that the purveyors of misery are detected by enforcing sanctions," Mr Hain said, warning that "the credibility of the Security Council is at stake" if it did not take decisive action.

But André Adam, Belgium's permanent representative on the Security Council, said the report, commissioned by the Canadian ambassador, Robert Fowler, had not taken into account the considerable steps made by his country to regulate the diamond trade.

Mr Adam denied last night that a "grey market'' of 4,000 to 5,000 unregistered diamond dealers operated in Antwerp, as the report states. He said Belgium had stepped up customs controls and planned to create a certification mechanism in the Angolan capital, Luanda.

The UN report also heavily criticises several African governments. It says the presidents of Burkina Faso and Togo have, for profit, allowed the Unita leader, Jonas Savimbi, to use their territories as transitpoints for arms and diamonds. It accuses South Africa and Ivory Coast of facilitating travel by Unita officials or being lax about enforcing the UN travel ban on the group.

Rwanda is said to have received some military help from Unita in its campaign against President Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government of Angola supports Mr Kabila.

Several individuals of different nationalities - mercenaries and dealers in gems and arms - are named in the report, as are the governments of Switzerland, the US, France, Belgium and Portugal, where Unita has offices. Bulgaria is named as the origin of most Unita arms since 1997 and Ukrainians are said to be the "mules".

Representatives of several of the countries criticised in the report claimed this week that too much of the UN's information had been gathered from Unita defectors.