John Pilger

Article excerpt

Our soldiers aren't in Sierra Leone for the sake of morals or democracy. They are there for the control of diamonds

Behind its propaganda, British foreign policy is undergoing significant changes. The armed intervention in Sierra Leone is a case in point. It is the biggest of its kind since the Falklands war; and its aims are not, as reported, "vague" or "humanitarian" or in support of the United Nations and "a democratically elected government".

A reliable source of what Tony Blair, GeoffHoon and Robin Cook are up to in West Africa is the Wall Street Journal, the authentic voice of American corporate power. On 22 March, reports the Journal, the US embassy in Freetown called a top-secret meeting of the multinational corporations that control Sierra Leone's diamond mines, the Freetown government and the RUF rebels, whose territory includes the mines. The US and Britain had forced the government into a coalition with the RUF and demanded that Foday Sankoh, the RUF leader, was given immunity from prosecution and made minister for natural resources, meaning diamonds. That his men were then spreading terror by amputating the limbs of children was not a consideration.

In March, Washington changed tack, believing that its chosen man was unreliable. The RUF was told it had to surrender the mines or face an American-backed war. Behind the latest round of fighting and atrocities, says the Journal, was "US and British determination to wrest control of Sierra Leone's rich diamond mining areas from the RUF rebels... The key role of mining interests in the fighting is nothing new in Sierra Leone. Rival mining companies, security firms and mercenaries from South Africa, Britain, Belgium, Israel and the former Soviet Union have poured weapons, trainers, fighters and cash into the country. They have backed the government or the rebels in a bid to gain access to the country's high-quality gems."

In 1998, the country's international diamond trade had a market value of [pounds]4.2bn, producing jewellery worth an estimated [pounds]35bn. The South African-based De Beers company mines 40 per cent of the world's diamonds and has been in Sierra Leone since 1935, when it was given exclusive mining rights by the British. These days, the company's role is indirect and secretive, yet reportedly undiminished, with many of Sierra Leone's diamonds sold for cash and smuggled through Liberia. De Beers has a prominent place in new Labour's Millennium Dome.

Justifying the invasion, Robin Cook wrote in the Sun: "Instability on the other side of the world can lead to fewer jobs in our factories, more drugs on our streets and more asylum-seekers at our door." In other words, the paratroopers are really guarding British jobs and keeping out dreadful refugees. That gives some idea of the regard in which the Foreign Office holds the intelligence of the British public. …