Congo-Brazzaville: Congo Seeks to Regain Role in Gem Trade

Johannesburg — SA could help restore credentials'

SA HAS a role to play in helping Republic of Congo restore its credibility as a diamond exporter, the head of a recent review mission to the central African nation suggested yesterday.

The mission was led by the former chairman of the Kimberley Process, Abbey Chikane, who is chairman of the South African Diamond Board. His report led to a decision to suspend Congo from the Kimberley Process which aims to regulate the trade in rough diamonds and eliminate trade in conflict diamonds.

Chikane said the reason for the action against Congo was its failure to implement internal monitoring controls to ensure that all diamonds being offered from Congo had been mined there, "as opposed to those smuggled to the Congo Republic from neighbouring countries".

He said the weakness in the system was the lack of an effective internal monitoring process, and he noted it would be costly for a small country like the Congo Republic to implement one.

"They need a lot of assistance from countries which have the resources," he said.

"There is an understanding in the Kimberley Process that those that don't have the resources need to be helped by those with the resources."

He said SA, Russia, Canada and the US could all play a role in helping the Congo to comply with the process.

Chikane said South African assistance should come from both the state and the private sector, and could be channelled through the Diamond Board.

"With the concept of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the board has to support other African states," he said .

"It is up to the government of the Congo Republic to call for assistance through the Kimberley Process we won't interfere unless invited."

He said that the Congo had been exporting about 5,2-million carats of diamonds a year, while its production potential was estimated at 55000 carats a year and this "huge discrepancy" suggested a big illegal trade.

The decision to suspend the Congo from the Kimberley Process proved that the process "has teeth", he said.

When the Kimberley Process was launched at the beginning of last year, conflict diamonds were believed to represent about 3% of total global trade, but this figure was now believed to have dropped to below 1%, partly thanks to positive developments in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.

"You still have a country like Liberia, which has a United Nations embargo on their diamonds, and their diamonds are regarded as conflict diamonds," Chikane said. "There is still a possibility that conflict diamonds are going to neighbours of Liberia, and then being exported through legal channels."

Chikane said Lebanon also needed close monitoring .

"The most glaring challenge of the Kimberley Process is the fact that as much as we have major diamond-processing centres participating in the process, we are concerned that those countries without significant internal monitoring systems will become victims of diamonds traded through their countries like the Congo Republic.

"One calls on all in the Kimberley Process to do all in their power for very robust internal monitoring systems, including SA." He noted that in many parts of Africa, the borders were not watertight, and it was easy to smuggle diamonds.

"This is a colonial problem, not a Kimberley Process problem," he said. "You find you have artificial borders."

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