The UN Security Council has removed a ban on Ivory Coast's diamond trade and eased an arms embargo. The West African nation has been pushing for months to legally restart exporting diamonds.
The diamond embargo came into force in 2005, following civil war that broke out in 2002, sparked by a failed coup attempt against then-President Laurent Gbagbo. The stones were helping to fund rebels that controlled the country's north, while the government controlled the south.
The country again came to the brink of civil war again in 2010-11, amid political conflict following the electoral defeat of Gbagbo by now President Alassane Ouattara.
In lifting the diamond export ban on Tuesday, the UN Security Council welcomed Ivory Coast's "overall progress towards restoring security, peace and stability," and its efforts to adhere to the international body that regulates the diamond trade, the Kimberley Process.
The UN Security Council resolution terminates "the measures preventing the importation by any state of all rough diamonds from Cote d'Ivoire ... in light of progress made towards Kimberley Process Certification."
The watchdog was created in 2000 to stop so-called "blood diamonds" from fueling armed conflict. It represents 81 countries, with its members accounting for 99.8 percent of global production of rough diamonds. Certification by the Kimberley Process ensures diamonds must be "conflict free," while preventing tainted diamonds from entering the legitimate trade.
Last November, the Kimberley Process gave the Ivorian government the permission it needed for the UN ban to be lifted.
The EU estimates that the Ivory Coast lags well behind the world's top diamond producers, extracting a minimum of 50,000 carats a year (1 carat = 0.2 grams). The industry employs at least 200,000 Ivorians.
Arms embargo eased
The 15-member Security Council also relaxed an arms embargo on Ivory Coast, allowing government forces to buy light weapons without advance approval. However, the government must still inform the UN of purchases. Financial and travel bans have been maintained.
The United States had advocated for a gradual easing of the arms embargo in light of security challenges Ivory Coast still faces.
"We recognize the government of Cote d'Ivoire's need to build capable and professional security forces," the US Deputy UN Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council.
"We were concerned however by the findings in the Group of Experts report regarding inconsistent compliance with existing arms embargo procedures. "We therefore urge Cote d'Ivoire to tighten its control over arms and ammunition and to continue the important work of security sector reform."
jr/mkg (Reuters, AFP, AP)