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Diamond Producers Agree to Peer Review

October 31, 2003

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Participants in a tracking system to ensure black market diamonds aren’t used to fund African wars wrapped up a three-day conference Friday with an agreement to strengthen the process with peer reviews.

But human rights groups said the voluntary system does not go far enough to curb trade in illicit ``blood diamonds.″

Representatives from governments, the diamond industry and non-governmental groups attended the meeting at South Africa’s luxury Sun City resort complex to review the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme.

The system is the diamond industry’s response to growing world concern about illicit diamonds that have fueled deadly wars in Congo, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone.

It is meant to track diamonds from the mines to jewelers’ display cases, requiring that each gem be accompanied by a certificate of origin. A total of 45 countries have signed on.

At this week’s conference, participants agreed to a system of voluntary reviews by fellow Kimberly Process members.

Upon the request of member countries, review teams will be dispatched to evaluate compliance with the tracking system. Member countries are also required to submit their own reports on an annual basis.

Abbey Chikane, outgoing Kimberly Process chairman, said the decision was a bold move just 10 months after the tracking system came into effect.

He said about 10 countries have already offered to submit themselves to review _ including Congo, where diamonds continue to be traded for arms, according to a U.N.-commissioned report released this week.

Human rights groups agreed it was an important step, but said the system was open to abuse.

``Without a compulsory monitoring system, the Kimberly Process will not be effective,″ said Ammika Flensburg, a spokeswoman for British-based Amnesty International. ``It is absolutely necessary to see that it works in reality, and it’s not just beautiful words on paper.″

British-based ActionAid has pressed for regular, independent monitoring.

``No regulatory trade agreement is credible without an impartial monitoring system, and the Kimberley Process is no exception,″ said ActionAid spokeswoman Bethan Brookes.

``Blood diamonds″ are estimated to make up 4 percent of the annual global trade in rough diamonds.

Their impact, however, has been severe enough to prompt concern within the diamond industry that traders could stop purchasing from Africa in favor of Australia, Canada and Russia.

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