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General News
New controls ease blood diamond fears - gov''t 2/22/2007
ACCRA, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Ghana, fearing its reputation will be tarnished by traffickers in "blood diamonds" from Ivory Coast, has stepped up monitoring of diamond production and exports, a government minister said.

An international inspection team will visit Ghana on March 26 to assess its compliance with the Kimberley Process, a U.N-backed scheme set up in 2002 to ensure "blood diamonds", also called conflict diamonds, are not sold on the black market to buy weapons.

"We have put in place very strict structures ... When the team comes they will be happy," Dominic Fobih, minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Ghana faces possible suspension from the Kimberley Process after a U.N report last year found that diamonds from the rebel-held north of war-divided Ivory Coast were being sold through Ghana and Mali in breach of a ban on Ivorian diamonds.

"We took the matter very seriously. We have obligations to fulfil ... The image of this country would be damaged if it were associated with the war in the Ivory Coast," Fobih said.

A ministerial taskforce has been set up while customs and immigrations officials have been trained, he said. Responsibility for monitoring the country''s compliance with the Kimberley Process is now shared by the Precious Minerals Marketing Company (PMMC), previously the sole inspector, and the Minerals Commission.

But the main difficulty remains in assessing Ghana''s diamond output.

About 80 percent of Ghana''s diamond production comes from small-scale miners. With little data available on their output, it is difficult to compare domestic production with export data, raising fears that non-Ghanaian diamonds could slip unnoticed into the supply chain.

About 490 local buyers have been registered and local miners -- believed to number as many as 10,000 -- are currently being registered, said Fobih.

"We are registering them so we can collect data on production ... The main issue is matching the production levels with the marketing levels," he said.

Ghanaian gem exports have risen in recent years from 626,000 carats in 2000 to about one million in 2005, a rise that has been driven, local authorities say, by higher gem prices.


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