Cameroon involved in Central Africa ‘blood diamond’ trade – UN experts – Reuters


UNITED NATIONS, Sept 1 Illicit trafficking of
diamonds from Central African Republic into neighboring Cameroon
is helping finance the continuation of a nearly three-year
conflict, an expert panel that monitors U.N. sanctions said in a
confidential report.

Central African Republic (CAR) descended into chaos in March
2013 when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power,
triggering reprisals by “anti-balaka” Christian militias who
drove tens of thousands of Muslims from the south in a de facto
partition of the landlocked country.

Although rival armed groups agreed to a peace accord in May,
the conflict has continued at a lower intensity, and a
transitional government has been unable to assert its authority
over all of the vast, mineral-rich territory.

The export of diamonds from CAR was banned in May 2013 by
the Kimberley Process, which represents 81 countries, including
the United States, the European Union, Russia, China and all
major diamond-producing nations. The group was formed to prevent
so-called blood diamonds from funding conflicts.

In its interim report to the CAR sanctions committee, the
U.N. Security Council’s panel of experts said the illicit trade
in diamonds is still funding major players in the conflict and
increasingly involves neighboring countries such as Cameroon and
Chad.

The panel has not previously highlighted the role of
Cameroon in the conflict diamond trade. But the report does not
directly implicate Cameroon authorities in the trade.

“Despite a decline in violence by anti-balaka elements in
the southwest, some anti-balaka continue to be involved in the
illicit exploitation of diamonds,” the panel said in the report,
seen by Reuters.

“Diamond mines in the (sub-prefecture) of Amada Gaza
(Mambere-Kadei province) are violently contested between
anti-balaka and armed Peul,” the experts said.

Many Muslims from the Peul ethnic group were displaced by
the war.

The panel has said that all sides in the conflict profit
from the trade in diamonds. It estimates that some 140,000
carats of diamonds, valued at $24 million, have been smuggled
out of the country since the 2013 ban on the export of CAR’s
rough diamonds.

Its latest report said that diamonds from Amada Gaza were
suspected to have been trafficked through Gbiti, a Cameroon
border town. Other examples of cases the panel is investigating
include diamond trafficking through the Cameroonian town of
Kenzou, including a large, 40-carat stone.

Another involves the seizure of 160 carats of undocumented
diamonds worth around $28,000 in Yaounde, Cameroon in April.
These diamonds, the panel said, had been carried from Kenzou by
two Indian nationals who recently visited Bangui, CAR’s capital.

Cameroon’s U.N. Mission did not respond to a request for
comment.

Armed anti-balaka elements, the panel said, are involved in
illicit diamond exploitation at a number of mining sites.

The panel of experts recommended that the Security Council
urge transitional CAR authorities to suspend diamond-trading
houses that purchase the gems from areas “under direct or
indirect control of armed groups.” It also said the council
should urge neighboring countries not to violate CAR’s borders.

MINUSCA, the U.N. peacekeeping force in CAR, was deployed in
2014 to shore up the precarious stability established under the
transitional government. A U.N. sanctions regime for Central
African Republic, which includes an arms embargo, was set up in
December 2013.

In May 2014, the Security Council blacklisted former
President Francois Bozize and two other men, one of whom has
since died. Last month it blacklisted the Belgian branch of
CAR’s diamond-trading company and three individuals linked to
the conflict.

CAR presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for
Oct. 18. They have already been postponed several times,
however, and the transitional government said on Tuesday the
vote was unlikely to take place on time.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Stuart Grudgings
and G Crosse)