Diamonds, oil finance endless fighting in Angola

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Wed Aug 30 07:56:42 MDT 2000


Monday
28 August 2000

Diamonds, oil finance endless fighting in Angola
LUANDA: Efforts to stop trafficking in war diamonds have yet to slow Angolan
rebels, who continue to sell diamonds to buy arms and to keep fighting a war
already decades old, experts here say.
"UNITA keeps waging war to win control over the diamonds, and it can wage
war because of the diamonds," said a mining engineer here, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
"Diamonds are how the rebels manage to keep restocking their weapons," he
said.
During the past year the diamond trade has come under fresh scrutiny, after
the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone faced stiff resistance from
rebels there, who also fund their activities through diamond sales.
The UN slapped sanctions on the National Union for the Total Independence of
Angola (UNITA) in June 1999.
In July, the diamond industry proposed a system of import controls to
prevent trade in diamonds of war by creating a system of warranties
guaranteeing a diamond's legitimate origin.
But those actions have failed to stop UNITA from mining and trading diamonds
from the regions of Angola under its control. Experts here estimate that
UNITA makes 500 million dollars a year from its diamond sales.
"UNITA uses guerrilla techniques, and has unlimited resources to acquire new
arms from eastern Europe. Angola's army has not managed to significantly
reduce the rebels' firepower," said one observer, who added: "The war could
continue for centuries."
In September 1998, the government did succeed in capturing a diamond-rich
region in the northeastern province of Lunda.
The government has also tried to implement its own system of warranties,
guaranteeing the diamonds' origin.
Luanda has also granted only one company -- the British, Israeli, Belgian
and Swiss consortium Angola Selling Corporation -- the right to export
diamonds from Angola.
But those efforts have yet to slow UNITA's diamond sales, while the
government uses its own mineral resources -- especially oil -- to keep up
its own armed forces, observers here said.
About 10 percent of Angola's annual budget is devoted to defence, and 95
percent of the government's income comes from the 700,000 barrels of oil
that offshore wells pump every day.
Until 1999, diamond mines in government-controlled regions produced about
one million carats per year, and the government said that production jumped
26 percent during 1999 after taking control of Lunda, despite "pockets of
resistance."
"The wars in Angola, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sierra Leone
boost sales," one dealer said. "The trade has no desire to see the wars
end."
Angola has suffered through decades of war, first to oust the Portuguese
colonisers.
But after independence, the government failed to consolidate its support
around the country, and rival groups who had fought for independence turned
on each other.
Cold war rivalries helped fuel the civil war, and after the cold war ended,
Angola's vast mineral resources became the main source of funding for the
conflict.
Because of the war, Angola's people have yet to benefit from their nation's
natural bounty, and hunger is widespread despite the fertile soil.
Four million of Angola's 11 million people have fled their homes because of
the fighting, according to estimates by humanitarian organizations. About
2.5 million people have no access to humanitarian aid. (AFP)
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