The sordid history behind Africa's conflict diamonds

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If "Blood Diamond" is not causing alarm among jewelers, as the World Diamond Council (WDC) insists, it should be. The new movie, which depicts atrocities fueled by illicit sales of African "conflict diamonds," could - and should - lead to public outrage.

Set in Sierra Leone, a small west African country rich in diamonds, it will leave an indelible impression of how leaders of the romance industry turned a blind eye to the way their policies funded some of the worst atrocities in modern warfare. In the 1990s, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels mined diamonds from Sierra Leone at gunpoint, using forced labor and prisoners of war. They abducted children as young as 8 and used cocaine and heroin to engender in them loyalty and ruthlessness.

Using axes and machetes, the RUF chopped off the arms of some 20,000 civilians. Selling diamonds to willing buyers in neighboring Liberia and Guinea - and later, in London and Antwerp, Belgium - was the rebellion's only purpose.

WDC chairman Eli Izhakoff says the industry knew nothing of the conflict-diamond trade until 1999-2000, at which point titan De Beers stopped buying diamonds on the open market and industry leaders began exploring ways of ending the trade for good. But the ignorance excuse is preposterous. When the UN slapped sanctions on Sierra Leone's diamonds, the export of diamonds from neighboring countries quickly exceeded nature's limits. Even countries without any diamond mines at all, such as The Gambia, suddenly became important points of export to Belgium. Everyone knew where these diamonds came from.

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