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Abidjan - Ivory Coast will lobby for the lifting of a United Nations ban on its diamond exports at a meeting this week, a government official said, arguing that its stones are no longer a threat to the country's stability now its civil war is over.
The UN Security Council slapped an embargo on the West African nation's diamonds in 2005 to prevent their sale from funding arms purchases and fuelling the conflict, which began in 2002.
Ivory Coast is the last remaining source of so-called blood diamonds and the only country under a UN export ban of such gems.
“We want the diamond embargo lifted. Today, Ivory Coast is not a country at war,” Fatimata Thes, the ministry of mines official heading the lobbying effort, told Reuters. “We want to take full advantage of our wealth and practise good governance by exerting control over the marketing process.”
Blood diamonds - diamonds used to fund insurgencies - were thrust into the global spotlight in the 1990s during a succession of African conflicts where their trade financed arms purchases and resulted in human rights abuses.
At the height of wars in Sierra Leone and Angola, about a fifth of all rough stones worldwide were believed to be blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds.
Public outcry led to the establishment in 2002 of the Kimberley Process, a government, industry and civil scheme aimed at certifying stones and preventing conflict diamonds entering the international market.
The diamond industry says such stones now represent less than one percent of world supply.
The government of president Alassane Ouattara, seeking funds for post-war reconstruction, is striving to bring the country's diamond sector into compliance with the Kimberly Process, seen as a step towards having the UN ban lifted.
An Ivorian delegation plans to submit a plan for its diamond sector during a four-day Kimberley Process meeting that begins in Washington on Monday. Talks are also under way with several international diamond firms to establish marketing partnerships.
When war broke out in 2002 following a failed coup against then President Laurent Gbagbo, rebels seized control of the northern half of the country and the diamond fields there.
The UN Security Council voted in April to maintain the ban on Ivorian diamond exports. UN monitors said illegal trafficking had continued unabated despite the embargo with revenues going to rebel commanders, now integrated into the army.
Analysts fear that continued military involvement in the diamond sector will not only hinder efforts to have the ban lifted, but could also endanger still fragile progress in creating a unified national army in Ivory Coast.
“Military, guns and control of diamonds don't mix,” said Alan Martin, research director for Partnership Africa Canada, a civil member of the Kimberley Process.
“The concern is that these revenues are now flowing into the pockets of former militia, and you don't know what they are going to be used for.” - Reuters