10 April 2006

Liberia: End of Diamond And Timber Sanctions Closer, UN

Monrovia — The head of the UN Security Council sanctions committee has praised the government of Liberia for efforts to meet regulatory targets in the diamond and timber trades that could lead to the lifting of sanctions.

The United Nations slapped bans on Liberian diamond exports in 2001 and on timber two years later, saying the resources were being used to fuel war in the region. But today - nearly three years after the country emerged from its own 14-year civil war, the first post-conflict president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is pushing to get the sanctions lifted.

"The Liberian government is working hard to meet the benchmarks set for the lifting of the sanctions [and] in June the Council will be meeting to review the sanctions," UN sanctions chief Ellen Loj told reporters on Saturday after making a special assessment visit to Liberia.

But she added, "More work still needs to be done by the government of Liberia for the sanctions to be lifted."

The Liberian government has to demonstrate that it has full authority over the timber and diamond sectors and ensure proper accountability on revenues generated before the sanctions can be lifted, says the UN.

The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian diamonds, dubbed "blood diamonds", in 2001 after investigations by the British government said former Liberian president Charles Taylor was trading the precious stones out of neighbouring Sierra Leone in exchange for arms for rebels.

Liberia's lands, mines and energy minister Eugene Shannon told reporters last week that Liberia was working hard to comply with the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme - an international diamond tracking system. Signing up to the scheme is a condition to getting the diamond sanctions lifted.

The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian timber in July 2003 describing the country's logging industry as a threat to regional peace and security as revenues were used by Taylor to fuel war at home and in Sierra Leone.

International rights group Global Witness said logging companies used their ships to transport arms and other military hardware into Liberia and other countries in the region.

As part of its efforts to exercise full control over the timber sector, Liberia's first elected post-war government within weeks of taking office issued an executive order in early February cancelling all forest concession agreements entered into with private companies by previous regimes.

According to John Woods, the new managing director of the government-owned Forestry Development Authority, the forestry sector could generate between US $15 million to $20 million a year and some 7,000 new jobs would be created in country where unemployment is estimated at over 80 percent.

Prior to the imposition of sanctions, records from the FDA reckoned that the timber sector employed between 5,000 and 6,000 people.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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