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Diamonds trafficking and violence in CAR

By on July 29, 2014

Before Seleka seized power in March last year, Central African Republic ranked as the world’s 12th largest diamond exporter. Thousands of artisanal miners produced more than 300,000 carats a year from thin alluvial deposits.

Axmin suspended activity at the mine in late 2012 after rebels occupied its camp. The firm says it is monitoring the situation. CEO Lucy Yan did not respond to requests for comment.

The mine, owned by Canada’s Axmin, was overrun by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels more than year ago. It now forms part of an illicit economy driving sectarian conflict in one of Africa’s most unstable countries, despite the presence of thousands of French and African peacekeepers.

“Commanders on both sides are profiteering from this conflict. Both the anti-balaka militia and Seleka are involved in gold and diamonds,” Kasper Agger, field researcher for the Enough Project, a Washington-based think-tank. “If we are going to make peace, we need to offer them an economic alternative.”

Roland Marchal, a researcher on the region at Sciences Po university in Paris, said diamond trafficking was not the sole motivation for Seleka’s creation. It was formed to combat discrimination against Muslims, who were routinely extorted by security forces and denied access to schools and hospitals by a Christian-dominated civil service.
For many in the north, the conflict in CAR “This isn’t about religion: it’s jealousy.
In Boda, it was Muslim middlemen who controlled the diamond trade and reaped its profits, while most of the poorly paid mine labourers were Christians, fueling sectarian resentment.

A ceasefire signed last week in the capital of neighbouring Congo Republic raised hopes of an end to the conflict. But many fear local warlords on both sides will resist attempts to break their grip over resources, especially diamond and gold mines.

Diamond fields around Bria and Sam Ouandja provide revenue for rebels, who extract protection money and sell diamonds to dealers in Sudan and Chad, experts say. From there, the gems are trafficked to Antwerp, Dubai or India. Some pay their way past rebel checkpoints to carry gold to Bangui and east to Cameroon.

“Everyone is still buying. Some people take it to Chad, then it goes to Dubai,” said Saliou Issoufa, whose family works in the trade in Bambari. He said some Seleka leaders were directly involved in the trade – something corroborated by a U.N. report.

In an attempt to prevent “blood diamonds” from funding this conflict, the Kimberley Process – a group of 81 countries, including all the major diamond producers – imposed an export ban on raw gems from Central African Republic last year.

The transitional government of President Catherine Samba Panza is trying to enforce a “traceability” scheme to show diamonds are not mined in rebel territory.

Seleka’s two main factions have for years vied to control the diamond mines in the remote northeast. The Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), made up of fighters from the Gula tribe, controlled Bria. The Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), grouping Runga fighters, seized mines at Ndele.

In a recent report, think-tank International Crisis Group called for mines to be occupied by international peacekeepers.

Yet diplomats and Seleka insiders say Djotodia and Adam will not hand over control: “Bambari and Bria are the financing of Seleka. They will never let them go,” said one senior diplomat.

Seleka fighters – many from neighbouring Chad and Sudan – swept south to topple President Francois Bozize in March last year. Months of killing and looting provoked vicious reprisals by a militia, known as “anti-balaka”, that pushed the rebels back, splitting the landlocked country of 4.5 million people into a Muslim north and the Christian south.

Thousands of people have died and more than a million fled their homes in Central African Republic amid the violence between the Seleka rebels and Anti-Balaka militia.

France deploy 2,000 peacekeepers to CAR. After tens of thousands of Muslims fled the south, the United Nations agreed to a 12,000-strong mission from September.

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