Ivory Coast to press U.N. next month to lift diamond export ban

Tue Mar 4, 2014 1:17pm EST

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* Government has put in place a tracking system

* Ivory Coast received green light from Kimberley Process in November

* Country has reunited after civil war caused north-south split

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN, March 4 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast will press the United Nations to lift a ban on its diamond exports next month having received a clean bill of health from the body tasked with preventing their sale from fuelling armed conflicts, a government official said.

The U.N. Security Council imposed a trade embargo on the West African nation's diamonds in 2005 to stop money from sales from funding arms purchases after a 2002-2003 civil war that divided the country.

Though it has since reunified, Ivory Coast remains the only country still under a U.N. export ban on "blood diamonds" - gems that are used to fund insurgencies.

Fatimata Thes, the official in charge of the diamond sector at Ivory Coast's Mining Ministry, said President Alassane Ouattara's government had put a system in place to register diamond workers and track production.

Last year, the Security Council said it would review the export ban in light of Ivory Coast's progress towards compliance with the Kimberley process - a government, industry and civil society scheme aimed at certifying stones and preventing conflict diamonds entering the international market.

A plenary meeting of the Kimberley Process in Johannesburg in November ruled that Ivory Coast had fulfilled the minimum requirements for the scheme.

"In April, we'll be in New York with the ministers of Industry and Mines to show what efforts we've made and demand the lifting of this embargo which is hurting our population," Thes said.

Ouattara took office in 2011 after a brief civil conflict sparked by incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to accept his election victory. He has since overseen rapid growth in the former French colony, turning the page on a decade of political turmoil and economic stagnation.

Before the embargo, Ivory Coast produced about 300,000 carats of diamond a year, worth $25 million, experts say.

Thes said that since a traceability system was launched in May, some 10,000 carats had been stockpiled by collectives in preparation for the lifting of the embargo. Removing the ban would help Ivory Coast to fight poverty, she said.

"The miners are poor and as long as the embargo is not lifted there will be no financing to develop the mining sector which is still artisanal," she said.

Blood diamonds were thrust into the global spotlight in the 1990s during a succession of African conflicts where their trade financed arms purchases and resulted in human rights abuses.

At the height of wars in Sierra Leone and Angola, about a fifth of all rough stones worldwide were believed to be blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds. Public outcry led to the establishment of the Kimberley Process in 2002. (Editing by Daniel Flynn, editing by David Evans)

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