* Government has put in place a tracking system
* Ivory Coast received green light from Kimberley Process in
* Country has reunited after civil war caused north-south
By Loucoumane Coulibaly
ABIDJAN, March 4 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,"
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)