A senior Ivory Coast army officer is violating a rough diamond export embargo and may be using profits to buy arms, reports Reuters, citing United Nations (UN) experts. These findings come amid government efforts to have the UN ban lifted.
Last year, the UN Security Council said it would review the country's rough diamond export ban in line with the Ivory Coast's progress towards compliance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). At its November plenary in Johannesburg, the KPCS recognized that Ivory Coast had, indeed, fulfilled the KPCS minimum requirements "as possibly could be achieved under the UN embargo."
After Ivory Coast's 2002-2003 civil war, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in November 2004 to impose various sanctions on the country, including a ban on its rough diamond exports. A second civil war erupted in 2011 after the country's then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to concede defeat upon losing the 2010 presidential election to Alasanne Ouattara. In May 2013, the Security Council unanimously voted to extend for another year its embargo on rough diamond exports from Ivory Coast, among other sanctions. They remain in effect until the end of this month.
In Breach of Diamond Export Ban?
However, UN experts, in charge of monitoring compliance with the sanctions regime including an arms embargo, have issued a report this week asserting that diamonds are being exported from Ivory Coast in violation of the ban, Reuters reports.
The UN experts have reportedly identified the principal diamond buyer in Seguela - one of the country's two main diamond-mining areas - as a Malian national named Sekou Niangadou, who described to the UN experts how he circumvented the KPCS by sending rough diamonds to offices in Guinea and Liberia to obtain certificates of origin there, notes the news source.
The UN experts found that, in order to operate in diamond areas, Niangadou's network made cash payments to two army officers loyal to Colonel Issiaka Ouattara, whose alias is Wattao, the deputy commander of Ivory Coast's elite Republican Guard. Wattao was a senior commander in the New Forces, which launched a rebellion in 2002 and backed President Alassane Ouattara during the 2011 war.
Reuters cites the UN experts as saying that there was "strong evidence" indicating money from diamond trafficking was being used to support elements within the army loyal to Wattao. However, a communications officer for Wattao told Reuters that the colonel declined to comment on the allegations.
A previous report by the UN experts published in October estimated the annual value of the country's illicit diamond trade to be between US$12 million and US$23 million. Before the embargo, Ivory Coast is said to have produced about 300,000 carats of diamonds a year worth about US$25 million.