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Diamonds are Sierra Leone war's best friend

The Revolutionary United Front controls much of Sierra Leone's key diamond-mining areas  

May 24, 2000
Web posted at: 9:11 p.m. EDT (2111 GMT)

In this story:

Liberia accused of backing rebels

'Foday Sankoh is a factor'


FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- Diamonds, the precious resource that has made some countries rich, have been a curse for Sierra Leone, according to the country's president.

"Diamond is one of our problems in this country, and the rebels have been stealing our diamonds together with other people from outside Sierra Leone," said President Ahmed Tijan Kabbah.

VideoPresident Taylor speaks with CNN about the crisis in Sierra Leone.
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VideoBen Wedeman investigates the remains that are suspected of being those of a U.N. peacekeepers.
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CNN In-Depth Specials: Sierra Leone

"Stealing our diamonds, buying arms and fueling the war," he added.

As part of the Lome agreement -- the accord signed last year that was supposed to end the bloody nine-year civil war in the country, Revolutionary United Front rebel leader Foday Sankoh was made part of the government. Sankoh demanded and was given the chairmanship of the state body that regulates diamond mining in Sierra Leone.

And as the peace deal falls apart amid renewed violence and Sankoh's arrest, the rebel forces are concentrating their forces in the diamond-rich east of the country.

Johnny Paul Karoma of the Commission for Consolidation of Peace and a former ally of Sankoh called on the rebels to leave the diamond areas.

"Those who are presently in the mining areas, they should vacate those areas and hand them directly to the government, because that is what is fueling the war," he said.

"If the government cannot get control of those areas, then the war will not end," said Karoma

Liberia accused of backing rebels

Many people in Freetown accuse the president of neighboring Liberia, Charles Taylor, of supporting the rebels to gain control of Sierra Leone's diamonds.

It is a charge Taylor flatly denies, but his suspected involvement is a constant source of tension between the two countries.

"We are saying that the people of Liberia should be very concerned about their nation and the action of their president," said Samuel Hinga Norman, Sierra Leone's deputy defense minister.

"We are all the time asking them to consider that. We are all the time trying to suppress the possibility of a confrontation between the two countries he added," he added.

But in an interview with CNN, Taylor denied such charges. He pointed to his own country's diamond resources and described as "ludicrous" the notion that the two nations might go to war over the gems.

"It is just bringing it (to) too low of a level to believe that Liberia would be involved in a war in Sierra Leone for diamonds," he said.

Taylor and Sankoh were both proteges of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

'Foday Sankoh is a factor'

"We have a situation here where there is no doubt in anybody's mind that Foday Sankoh is a factor," Taylor told CNN. "He will remain a factor until probably there is peace in Sierra Leone, but I do not subscribe to what he has done with the Lome peace process."

"I believe that we must go back to Lome. The disarmament must resume immediately. We must give the people of Sierra Leone a mere chance," Taylor continued.

"There has been no question in anybody's mind about our past association with Foday Sankoh, but I believe that it's time for peace."

In recent weeks Taylor has been involved in negotiations with the RUF to obtain the release of as many as 500 U.N. peacekeepers taken hostage by the rebels. About 250 peacekeepers remain in rebel hands.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in New York on Wednesday that the Liberian government had told him that the release of a the 250 peacekeepers was imminent.

Correspondent Ben Wedeman and Reuters contributed to this report.

U.N. must wait to examine skeletal remains in Sierra Leone
May 23, 2000
Kenyan delegation talks to rebel leader in Sierra Leone
May 22, 2000
Sierra Leone forces moving on rebel position, officials say
May 20, 2000
Sierra Leone president backs peace accords
May 19, 2000
West African nations to send troops to Sierra Leone
May 18, 2000
Sankoh capture complicates position of U.N. hostages in Sierra Leone
May 17, 2000

Human Rights Watch
  • Sierra Leone 1999: Getting Away with Murder
  • Sowing Terror 1998: Atrocities against Civilians in Sierra Leone The Republic of Sierra Leone
  • Peace Agreement between Sierra Leone and RUF
Sierra Leone Online Resource Page
Sierra Leone Web
United Nations Home Page
  • Security Council

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