Angola: De Beers challenged over UNITA diamonds

JOHANNESBURG, 9 March (IRIN) - A new report on Angolan sanctions has called on the diamond giant De Beers to come clean on whether it holds UNITA rebel diamonds in its stockpile.
According to the report by London-based Action for Southern Africa (ACSA), despite De Beers commitment to UN sanctions on UNITA diamonds and an 'ethical' pledge made last month that its gems are 'rebel-free', it made record sales last year from its stockpile which could include UNITA stones.

"All the emphasis in their ethical statements has been on the origin of present purchases - which bypasses the critical issue of the origins of diamonds included in (post-sanctions) sales and whether UNITA-origin stones could have been sold from the stockpile given De Beers past buying of UNITA-origin diamonds via other traders," the report released this week said. "It is not clear whether part of last year's record profits come from such tainted sources."

Angolan diamonds, among the best in the world, are readily identifiable. Within De Beers' stockpile are believed to be stones produced in the Cuango Valley by UNITA, "unless De Beers managed the remarkable feat of selling around US $2 billion worth of the world's second most valuable gems before sanctions fell, during a 15 month recession," the report said.

Diamond industry specialist Christine Gordon told IRIN: "For the sake of transparency, De Beers should account for the diamonds that could be in their stockpile and sales of UNITA diamonds over the last few years. It should also clarify the quantity and value of UNITA diamonds that have arrived in the Central Selling Organisation from open market sources to clarify once and for all how much UNITA has made from diamonds."

But Tracey Peterson, Senior Communications Officer at De Beers in Johannesburg said: "We have never bought diamonds directly from UNITA. Our stockpile would not contain UNITA diamonds because we have never bought diamonds from UNITA."

Meanwhile, according to the ACSA report, UNITA has continued to mine diamonds and find markets in Antwerp and Tel Aviv since UN sanctions were introduced in 1998. ACSA estimates that UNITA earned at least US $150 million in 1999, and possibly as much as US $200 million. "Unless checked more rapidly, such a level of trade (together with a possible substantial stockpile) still provides UNITA with extensive resources to enable it to re-arm and re-group once again."


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