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In the service of the diamond firms

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Issue 1697

British troops in Sierra Leone

In the service of the diamond firms

THE BIGGEST British armed intervention since the Falklands War of 1982 is pouring into the West African country of Sierra Leone. Ordinary people have suffered dreadfully in that country. At least 50,000, and perhaps 100,000, have died in the fighting in the last decade. In every street in the capital, Freetown, there are people without arms or legs or ears or a nose.

Around 100,000 people have been mutilated by one or other of the warring gangs that have fought for state power and the wealth it brings. The British forces will not bring peace or help transform the situation for ordinary people. They are there to demonstrate global power and defend the interests of the multinationals.

Since diamonds were discovered in Sierra Leone in 1930, they have dominated the country’s politics. The main bosses’ paper in the US, the Wall Street Journal, wrote last weekend, “What appears to lie behind the breakdown of the peace process in Sierra Leone was US and British determination to wrest control of Sierra Leone’s rich diamond mining areas from the RUF rebels. For several months Washington and London have been leading efforts to break the financial power base of the RUF by trying to centralise the diamond trade. The key role of mining interests in the fighting is nothing new in Sierra Leone. Rival mining companies, security firms and mercenaries from South Africa, Britain, Belgium, Israel and the former Soviet Union have poured weapons, trainers, fighters and cash into the country. They have backed the government or the rebels in a bid to gain access to the country’s high quality gems.”

On 22 March the US embassy in Sierra Leone sponsored a meeting for multinational diamond firms and Sierra Leone’s government.

The US bluntly told the RUF that it was going to lose the billions of dollars worth of production it was then controlling. This declaration of war on the RUF plunged the country into the latest round of chaos. As well as directly serving the diamond firms, Blair and Clinton will also want to clear the way to further interventions by NATO, by apparently acting in a humanitarian way in Sierra Leone.

If the United Nations “peacekeeping” initiative fails in Sierra Leone, it will be much harder to mobilise the proposed UN troops for Congo, where more massive mineral deposits are at stake. For over half a century the diamond firms and the great world powers have plundered Sierra Leone.

The New Labour government has cut deals both with the present government of Sierra Leone and, at other times, the forces fighting it. Its intervention is wholly cynical. Foreign secretary Robin Cook introduced another diversion on Monday when he wrote in the Sun to justify the invasion. He wrote, “Instability on the other side of the world can lead to fewer jobs in our factories, more drugs on our streets and more asylum seekers at our door.”

So is that why the British are there-to keep refugees out? Multinationals and the governments that back them have created a situation where more than 40 percent of Africa’s population lives on less than $1 a day. Some 200 million people have no access to even the most basic health facilities, and over 2 million children a year die before the age of five. Only an end to the rule of profit, and the fight for a world where people matter more than diamonds, can really help Sierra Leone.

Killing sparked by UN

SOCIALIST Worker spoke to John Fisher, who has recently returned from Sierra Leone. John was an official in the MSF union in Britain for some 25 years and has since done regular training, education and solidarity work with African trade unions.

He described how the massacre of 19 people by the RUF, which began the present round of killing in Sierra Leone, was sparked by United Nations troops.

They were defending the RUF headquarters when a demonstration of thousands of trade unionists arrived to call for peace and justice. The UN forces began to fire over the heads of the crowd. The RUF forces then took this as their cue to shoot at the protesters. John was evacuated by the British troops. They were flown by helicopter to Dakar in Senegal.

Those who had the cash or the right credit card were able to immediately get on a flight to Europe. Those who were too poor had to wait in a camp until charter flights were arranged days later. Inevitably this meant that black people came last in the queue. All those taken out have been told the British government would bill them.

“IF YOU want to know the value of a diamond here you should take all the arms and legs they chopped off and put them on one side, and all the diamonds dug up over the past ten years and put them on the other side, and then you divide one into the other. That is the value of a diamond in Sierra Leone.”

  • JONAH DUMBUYA, whose arm and ears were hacked off by one of Sierra Leone’s militia groups in 1997

Rings and tiaras soaked in blood

IMMENSE FORTUNES are made from the diamond trade. In 1998 the international industry produced an estimated 115 million carats of rough diamonds with a market value of 4.25 billion. These became 67 million pieces of jewellery worth over 35 billion. At the centre of this trade is South African based De Beers, a company which has a high profile place in New Labour’s Millennium Dome.

De Beers mines about 40 percent of the world’s diamonds. Through buying up diamonds from elsewhere it controls around two thirds of global diamond sales. Its glinting rings and tiaras are soaked in blood. Manipulation of the supply and demand for diamonds is managed through De Beers’ Central Selling organisation, whose headquarters is in London although the sales are conducted in Antwerp, Belgium

To maintain its dominant position, De Beers depends on grabbing diamonds from whoever produces them, even if they are murderers, tyrants or dictators. De Beers claims that it never knows where the diamonds it is offered come from. As a company spokesperson said, “If you are sitting in Tel Aviv or Moscow or New York you have not a clue where the diamonds came from. Just to be clear, if a diamond seller says they are Scottish diamonds you take his word for it. “They could be diamonds from the moon.”

But it is complete nonsense. Experts can not only tell which country diamonds come from, they can frequently identify the region or even the mine. In reality there is a vast conspiracy and cover-up to hide the truth that diamond firms deal with killers.

De Beers has been in Sierra Leone for over half a century. In 1935 it won a contract from the British colonial authorities, which gave it exclusive rights over mining across the entire country for 99 years. This licence was revoked in the 1950s by the government, but until the 1980s De Beers was directly involved in Sierra Leone. Since then the relationship has been indirect.

De Beers maintains a diamond trading company in neighbouring Liberia. Many of Sierra Leone’s diamonds are smuggled through Liberia. A United Nations agency report published in February showed that diamonds from parts of Angola controlled by the murderous UNITA movement are smuggled on to the world market through Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

Sometimes the diamonds are bought for cash. Sometimes they are swapped for arms shipments or drugs. So this diamond trade not only fattens De Beers, it also fuels bitter wars and devastation.

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