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Swiss see flood of Liberia Diamonds

August 9, 2000

BERN, Switzerland (AP) _ Diamond imports to Switzerland from Liberia have soared in the past year amid signs that many of them are coming from rebel-held parts of Sierra Leone, an official said Wednesday.

Heinz Baumann, a senior Swiss customs official, said that in the first half of this year alone, diamonds worth $29.7 million arrived in Switzerland from Liberia, some 2.6 percent of total diamond imports.

That compares to $15.3 million worth of diamonds last year and none in 1997, said Baumann, confirming a report in the Zurich daily Tages-Anzeiger.

Baumann said that the quality of the precious stones made it clear that some of them did not come from Liberia. Fears that they were coming from rebel-controlled areas in Sierra Leone are well-founded, he added.

Othmar Wyss, head of Switzerland’s export control and sanctions secretariat, said the government would consider legislation to ban both direct and indirect diamond imports from Sierra Leone after its summer break.

In early July, the U.N. Security Council imposed a ban on the purchase of Sierra Leone diamonds that don’t have a government certificate, hoping to strangle the ability of the rebel Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, to finance its long-running civil war which has killed and maimed tens of thousands through diamond sales.

The Sierra Leone government, the United States and Britain have said the presidents of Liberia and Burkina Faso were helping the RUF sell diamonds to buy weapons.

Switzerland, which is not a U.N. member, said it also will apply the U.N. ban on rebel diamonds. Switzerland has imported no diamonds directly from Sierra Leone since 1998.

But Wyss said it would be difficult for Switzerland to ban diamonds from Liberia without similar action from the Security Council and the European Union.

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