On 12 June 1998, a month after the resumption of the civil war in Angola, the UN security council passed resolution 1173, prohibiting the importation of Angolan diamonds not accompanied by a Certificate of Origin from the Luanda government. This was done in a bid to cut off the UNITA rebels main source of revenue and thus cripple its ability to purchased arms.
On 28 July 1998, the European Union adopted a resolution implementing the ban. The move was crucial since two EU states - the UK and Belgium - play a key role in the world's diamond trade. From the UK, the De Beers' owned Central Selling Organisation regulates the world market and 80% of transactions take place in Antwerp.
However, by December 1998, the war in Angola had escalated and UNITA continued to score significant military gains. Robert Fowler, chairman of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee urge UN member states to make violations of the sanctions a criminal offence and to obtain information from private companies and individuals on illicit diamond trade with UNITA. Fowler also wanted member states, the Angolan government and the diamond industry to work out methods of enforcing the sanctions.
He was reacting to a report from the UK-based NGO, Global Witness, which claimed that De Beers and CSO had been purchasing diamonds from UNITA since the early 1990s and thereby helping Savimbi's organisation to maintain its military strength.
The report also blamed the Belgian Ministry of Economic Affairs experts who check the diamond parcels for failing to spot misleadingly labelled Angolan diamonds. Global Witness accused some Zambian Ministry of Mines officials of issuing false Certificates of Origin for Angolan diamonds smuggled out by UNITA.
The report provoked mixed reactions. On 2 March, the Belgian Foreign Minister, Erik Derycke called on the EU to investigate links between African diamond sales and the purchase of weapons. The Minister admitted that due to the importance of the diamond sector in Belgium, investigations should take place not only there but also in the UK and South Africa.
However, De Beers officials told African Business, "We do not purchase any Angolan diamonds which may be offered to us where their provenance is uncertain". Moreover, they said, "from the outset of sanctions, De Beers has been in contact with and offered assistance to the Angolan government and have also written to the UN Secretary General stating our...