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Switzerland bans uncut diamonds from Sierra Leone

Diamond prospectors sift through mud in Sierra Leone's Corbert mine Keystone

The Swiss government has decided to impose an 18-month embargo on imports of uncut diamonds from Sierra Leone.

The decision, announced on Wednesday, follows a similar move by the United Nations in July, and is aimed at preventing rebels in the west African country from using gem sales to fund their war against the government.

The ban will not apply to stones that have a certificate of origin and have been approved by the UN. Where doubts exist, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Berne will have the final say.

The Swiss authorities say that in recent years no rough diamonds have been imported from Sierra Leone. And they say the last import of cut stones was in 1998.

But a massive increase in diamond imports from neighbouring Liberia is fuelling suspicion that some of the gems may have originated in Sierra Leone. A report in the “Tages Anzeiger” newspaper earlier this month said Switzerland was fast becoming the marketplace for so-called “conflict” diamonds.

Diamond imports from Liberia totalled SFr 45 million in the first half of this year, compared to Sfr13 million for the whole of 1998. But the government says only high-carat cut gems, which are not subject to the UN ban, are imported from Liberia.

Diamond production in Sierra Leone is concentrated in the west of the country, which is controlled by the Revolutionary United Front rebels.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR