Switzerland reportedly becoming centre for conflict diamonds

A Sierra Leone rebel fighter cradles his weapon which might have been paid for in diamonds Keystone

A massive increase in diamond imports from Liberia is fuelling suspicion in Switzerland that the gems are actually coming from neighbouring war-torn Sierra Leone.

This content was published on August 9, 2000 minutes

A report in the "Tages Anzeiger" newspaper has said that Switzerland is fast becoming the marketplace for so-called "conflict" diamonds.

At the beginning of last month, the United Nations imposed an embargo on diamond exports from Sierra Leone because of fears that rebels were selling the stones to finance their war against the government. The guerrillas of the Revolutionary United Front control the country's diamond-rich areas.

In the Tages Anzeiger, Bruno Vanoni writes that Swiss foreign trade statistics give clear indications that diamond imports from Sierra Leone are passing through Liberia.

"If you look at the figures, you can see that diamond imports from Liberia have increased tremendously - from nothing in 1997 to SFr51 million ($30 million) in the first six months of this year alone," Vanoni told swissinfo.

"These imports are much greater than Liberia could produce itself, so experts in the federal administration and in the branch agree that they must come from rebel hands in Sierra Leone," he added.

Switzerland has not yet imposed an embargo against diamond exports from Sierra Leone but the government is expected to do so when it meets after the summer holiday.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) in Berne says it wants both direct and indirect imports from Sierra Leone to be banned.

However, Vanoni told swissinfo that it would be very difficult to be sure of the real origin of diamonds coming into Switzerland. "The leading trading company, De Beers in Lucerne, insists it does not import diamonds from Sierra Leone... but somebody is obviously doing it," he said.

"The problem is that it's going to be very difficult to prove that diamonds are coming via another country from Sierra Leone. It's a tough nut to crack for those who will have to write the regulations and those who have to apply them," he added.

Seco agrees that the true origin will be difficult to ascertain but it says it is not aware of any indirect imports.

It adds that as long as there is no embargo against Liberia from either the UN Security Council or the European Union, there is no reason for Switzerland to impose one.

by Robert Brookes

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