The 'Blood Diamond' Resurfaces

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"Plenty of blood still spills in Angola's diamond heartland."

On paper, Angola is a poster child for the global effort to keep "blood diamonds" out of the world's jewelry stores.

International pressure helped end a vicious civil war a decade ago by strangling the ability of rebels to trade diamonds for weapons. Angola is now a leading member of the so-called Kimberley Process, an industry-wide effort to prevent commerce in rough diamonds by insurgent groups. Today, Angola is the world's fifth-largest diamond producer by value, and its gems are coveted for their size and purity.

But a visit to Angola's diamond heartland reveals that plenty of blood still spills over those precious stones. Here in the sprawling jungle of northeast Angola, a violent economy prevails in which thousands of peasant miners eke out a living searching for diamonds with shovels and sieves. Because they lack government permits, miners and their families say they are routinely beaten and shaken down for bribes by soldiers and private security guards—and, in extreme cases, killed.

Top diamond-producing countries by value (billions) in 2008This sort of violence, which has made headlines in nearby Zimbabwe, is threatening to tear the Kimberley Process apart. Diamond retailers can ill afford more bad publicity about tainted stones. But many of Africa's diamond-producing nations are wary about any effort to beef up the industry's policing of human rights.

. . .The Kimberley Process says well over 99% of the world's rough-diamond trade is now "conflict-free."

But critics say there's a big loophole in that definition: It doesn't take into account human-rights abuses in diamond territory controlled by governments themselves. "The Kimberley Process cut the financial lifeline of rebels, but at the same time it gave legitimacy to corrupt governments that abuse their own people," says Rafael Marques, a human-rights activist who has worked extensively in northeastern Angola.

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