Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Diamond Industry Rejects War-Link Criticism

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Diamond Industry Rejects War-Link Criticism

Article excerpt

ANTWERP, Belgium -- World diamond industry leaders, saying they are tired of taking all the blame for militants who illicitly sell "blood diamonds" to finance wars in Africa, shot back yesterday at critics threatening boycotts.

The diamond industry is being singled out as an "ideal victim" by Western governments, said Peter Meeus, director of the Antwerp High Diamond Council, the world's largest. He accused governments of not doing enough to end the wars in Africa.

"It is unfair we have to take the blame just on our own," Meeus said.

The comments came at the biannual World Diamond Congress in this Belgian port city, the world's largest diamond trading center.

About 350 delegates -- including the world's top diamond traders and cutters, government representatives from producing and importing nations and mining company executives -- are at the meeting to discuss the deteriorating image of the industry.

Recent revelations have linked diamonds to civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and Congo. The United Nations has imposed embargoes on diamonds from both Angola and Sierra Leone unless they are certified by government agencies, but campaigners say that is not enough: The human rights group Global Witness has hinted at a campaign to turn consumers away from diamonds if delegates do not agree to stricter regulations.

At the meeting, delegates faced harsh criticism from Western government representatives who urged them to take swift action to end the illicit trade.

"Your industry has failed," U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, told delegates. "Ten billion dollars worth of diamonds were smuggled out of Africa in the last 10 years. . . . If consumers find out about this there will be a boycott."

Hall urged the industry to set up a $60 million fund for relief and conflict prevention in Africa to "persuade consumers you are sincere. …

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