(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

UN extends sanctions on timber and diamond exports

[Angola] Diamonds.

The UN Security Council has extended a ban on the export of diamonds and timber by Liberia for a further six months on the grounds that the country’s transitional government has failed to improve transparency.

The extension of the sanctions was approved by unanimous vote at a meeting of the Security Council in New York on Tuesday, and will maintain diamond, timber and arms embargoes until 21 December 2005, as well as travel and asset blockades on former president Charles Taylor and his family.

The government’s limited capacity to police illegal logging and mining, the continued meddling in Liberian affairs of one-time warlord and president Taylor, and a recent series of opaque government contracts were all raised in a damning report handed to the Security Council by a UN-appointed panel of experts.

Liberia’s prime assets are timber and diamonds, but the Security Council banned the export of diamonds in 2001, and timber two years later, after concluding that then president Charles Taylor was using the foreign exchange earned from these commodities to buy guns and fuel conflict in West Africa.

"The embargo on the export of diamonds from Liberia is rapidly becoming ineffective, as miners dig with flagrant disregard for national or United Nations authority," the panel’s report said.

The panel also warned that the blooming illegal trade, driven by former combatants from the 14-year civil war, could spark renewed conflict over the spoils.

Saying the government appeared unable to police logging and mining, the panel urged it to hire internationally reputed companies to do the job instead.

"The national transitional government lacks the capacity to provide such control, and UNMIL (the UN Mission in Liberia) lacks both the mandate and the troop levels necessary to perform such a role," the report said.

The possibility of extending the capacity of UNMIL to better police the sectors was also mooted.

The report also said that former president Taylor was "suspected of sponsoring a variety of presidential candidates, with a view to ensuring that the next Liberian government will include his sympathisers."

The country is to hold its first elections on the 11 October since war ended with Taylor’s exile to Nigeria in 2003. More than 50 candidates have announced they are ready to run president.

Another point of contention was the secret awarding of a diamond deal with the West African Mining Corporation, WAMCO, which is 90 percent backed by a London-based investment company and would essentially give WAMCO a monopoly over Liberian diamond mining.

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