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Many African diamonds still bloody

Kimberley Process can identify where diamonds originate but it is largely ignored.

NAIROBI, Kenya and FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — To halt the trade in "blood diamonds" — gems whose sales fuel deadly conflicts — the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was established in 2003. But as signatory states meet in Namibia this week, one of the scheme’s architects said the Kimberley Process is not working.

“When you see what the Kimberley Process can do it’s very disappointing where it fails,” said Ian Smillie, reached by phone at his Ottawa office as research coordinator for the non-governmental organization Partnership Africa Canada.

When it was launched, the Kimberley Process was promoted as the way to clean up the diamond trade because it can trace and certify the origins of all rough diamonds. Consumers should be able to tell where their diamonds come from and whether they are fueling conflict. Seventy-five governments have since signed up to the self-regulatory code.

But Smillie does not believe that the certification process is working. This month he quit his job in protest at the lack of commitment to the Kimberley Process shown by signatory states.

“I’m not prepared to take part in a pretence that the Kimberley Process is working when it is not,” he told GlobalPost.

Smillie's criticisms of the Kimberley process were repeated by Global Witness, a London-based  human rights group which tracks international mining activities. "The clock is running out on Kimberley Process credibility," said Annie Dunnebacke, spokeswoman for Global Witness.

Sierra Leone's civil war raged for several years until 2002 and the country became synonymous with blood diamonds, recently serving as the backdrop to a Leonardo Di Caprio movie about the illegal trade.

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All around Koidu in the far east of Sierra Leone, young men dream of diamonds, but few find them. Standing thigh deep in a muddy pit, 25-year-old Mohamed Sano shook a wooden sieve and squinted into the sludge. Disappointed he threw the gravel back into the murky brown
water. Next to him stood another young man, then another, and another and another.

Day after day across the muddy, cratered moonscape, hundreds of men stand hunched beneath a fierce sun sifting through the gravel hoping to find an elusive gem that might change their lives.

During the war, men like Sano were slaves digging diamonds out of the alluvial fields by hand, watched over by drug-addled kids with AK-47s. These "blood diamonds" were sold on the world market and the proceeds used to fuel the brutal fighting.