U.N. says Liberia lacks resolve to stamp out blood-diamond trade

UNITED NATIONS Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:07pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Liberia is showing only limited commitment to efforts to stop the trade in blood diamonds that has fueled conflicts in Africa, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report on Tuesday.

The report to the U.N. Security Council said Liberia's capacity to control diamond mining and trade - a vital part of the global Kimberly Process agreed in 2003 to regulate the $30 billion rough-diamond industry - remained weak.

It said Liberia's presidential taskforce on diamonds had not met in a year, while its technical committee convened in July for the first time in seven months.

"Limited commitment to comply with the minimum standards of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for Rough Diamonds remains apparent," the report said.

It said the U.S. Agency for International Development had signaled it would stop funding a program to help the Liberian government improve compliance with the Kimberley Process, partly due to Liberia's lack of commitment to the scheme.

The Kimberley Process is a government-led scheme aimed at cutting off trade in diamonds that has fueled various conflicts, including Liberia's 1989-2003 bloody civil war.

However diamond-producing countries have been accused of showing little interest in reform and campaign group Global Witness withdrew as an official observer of the process in December after it deemed the scheme an outdated failure.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was jailed for 50 years in May for helping Sierra Leone's rebels murder, rape and mutilate their way across Liberia's West African neighbor while he profited from a trade in blood diamonds.

Logging has also been a controversial issue in Liberia since the civil war, when rebels used proceeds from timber to purchase weapons, triggering a U.N. ban. The ban was lifted after Liberia's foreign partners, particularly the United States and the World Bank, helped it reform its forestry laws.

The United Nations said Liberia's forestry sector was still facing big challenges. "Commercial operators have to date paid only an estimated $1.9 million of the estimated $25.6 million owed to the government," the report said.

"The government continues to issue large tracts of forest area to commercial operators through private use permits, which have weak enforcement mechanisms and place limited financial and social obligations on companies," it said.

Global Witness said earlier this month that Liberia's forestry department had given over a quarter of the country's land area to logging firms over the past two years in a flurry of shady deals.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fending off accusations of graft and nepotism within her government, has suspended the head of the Forestry Development Authority and launched a probe into the deals amid concerns of widespread fraud and mismanagement.

(Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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