Centr.Africa halts diamond trade pending reforms

Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia said Tuesday that his volatile country would halt trade in diamonds pending reforms to ensure that they are not used to fund conflicts.

"There will be no more talk of conflict diamonds in Central Africa," Djotodia told AFP in an exclusive interview. "We will decree a moratorium on the exploitation and sale of diamonds in order to carry out a precise audit."

The mineral-rich but impoverished country will step up oversight of the trade in diamonds, setting up a centralised clearinghouse and banning cash sales of the stones, he said.

The Central African Republic, one of the world's top five producers of diamonds, was suspended from the Kimberley Process last month, according to the president's office.

The process was established in 2003 to prevent "conflict diamonds" from being illegally traded to fund conflicts.

Central Africa's diamond sector has long been plagued by irregularities because of corrupt regimes as well as armed groups operating around production sites.

Djotodia's Seleka rebel movement that overthrew president Francois Bozize in March is suspected of having been financed by blood diamonds, but Djotodia rejected the allegations.

"We never received aid from anyone, and in particular not from diamond dealers," he said, noting that Seleka formed in a northern district away from the country's diamond belt.

Central Africa's diamonds were the source of a major political scandal in former colonial power France in 1973, when the country's then self-declared "emperor", Jean-Bedel Bokassa, offered two of the stones to the then finance minister Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who became president the following year.

The scandal contributed to his loss in France's 1981 presidential election.