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Press Briefing By Chairman,

UN Press Briefing
August 1, 2000

The Security Council and the Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee were now ready to go far beyond what the Angola Sanctions Committee had already done, Anwarul Chowdhury, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh and Chairman of the Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing.

Mr. Chowdhury held the briefing shortly after the closure of the first-ever Security Council public hearings -– "conflict diamonds" in Sierra Leone. The Council, said the Chairman, wanted to expand the sanctions regime, to make it more focused and more effectively established in Sierra Leone.

One of the hallmarks of the public hearings, Mr. Chowdhury went on to say, was the proposal by the Government of Sierra Leone for a certification regime for diamonds. The Government had made a very effective case in identifying the details of such a regime, which was felt to contain foolproof elements. The Sanctions Committee would, however, be examining the proposal in greater detail.

The Chairman said the proposal illuminated areas that needed attention, while seeking to strengthen those in which the Angola Sanctions Committee had not been very effective. The proposal needed to be addressed immediately by the Committee. International assistance would be vital to its successful implementation, he added.

Another important fact that emerged from the hearings was that the broader international community was now ready and willing to participate in any control regime or certification regime the Council sought to establish. The diamond industry, civil society, governments, individuals all believed that such a global regime was necessary to get rid of conflict diamonds.

Yet another important development, continued the Chairman, was a nine-point action proposal by the diamond industry that identified various areas of action. The Council thought that proposal too was worth considering.

The Chairman also told correspondents that a five-member panel of experts had been selected to explore the issues in Sierra Leone in detail. Those five experts were: Chairman, Martin Chungong Ayafor (Cameroon); Diamond Expert, Ian Smillie (Canada); Expert on Arms and Transportation, Johan Peleman (Belgium); Expert from Interpol, Harjit Singh Sandhu; and Expert from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Atabou Bodian (Senegal). The Secretary-General would officially announce those names later, in accordance with Council resolution 1306 (5 July 2000), which asked him to establish the panel for an initial period of no more than four months.

Mr. Chowdhury said various governments were allowed to participate in the hearings, including those of Liberia and Burkina Faso, as well as representatives of the diamond industry, individual experts, and regional and international organizations. In the aftermath of the hearings, the Security Council's knowledge of the issue had been broadened tremendously. The complexity and the magnitude of the problem was also better understood now, he added.

Noting that at the beginning of the public hearings yesterday, many accusations had been leveled at both Liberia and Burkina Faso for breaking the United Nations embargo on Sierra Leone, a correspondent wanted to know whether sanctions would be imposed on those two countries.

Mr. Chowdhury said a number of speakers had mentioned that they had information on the violation of sanctions by Liberia and Burkina Faso. That information was shared with the Council, and now needed the attention of the Sanctions Committee.

Another correspondent mentioned last month's Group of Eight industrialized countries summit in Okinawa, Japan, where it was decided that the major buyer countries in that group should not purchase smuggled diamonds. However, since that decision would have no effect -- because it put no restrictions on a third group in that market -- was it therefore a truly positive step?

The Chairman said he believed that the proposal that came out of the G-8 summit was useful. The United Kingdom and the Russian Federation had presented it together, and there would be a conference in Moscow in the coming months to look into the decision and develop it further. It was an important component of any global certification the Council intended to establish for Sierra Leone. "At the end of the day this is what we should aim at and this is what we are looking for -- a global certification regime to control the illegal diamond trade", he said. A permanent international panel might well be established to look into such issues, he said.

Regarding the allegations made against Liberia and Burkina Faso, and his earlier response to a question raised, a correspondent asked the Chairman to be more specific about the Committee's actions -– for example, what was the time- frame involved, and would the allegations be investigated?

Ambassador Chowdhury said he would submit a report on the public hearing to the Sanctions Committee along with his observations. The allegations against the two countries had come up in quite a few presentations, and he believed that his report would contain those allegations and that the Committee would look into the matter. It would examine all the points that had emerged from the hearings and decide how best to address those points.

As a follow-up, would one possibility be the imposition of sanctions, the same corespondent asked?

The Chairman said he could not say anything on that at the moment, but the Committee would certainly look into the matter. The Foreign Minister of Liberia, Monie R. Captan, and the Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso, Michel Kafondo, had also presented their side of the story, and in the process brought out other elements that needed the attention of the Committee as well.

Another correspondent wanted to know whether there was a reluctance either by members of the Sanctions Committee or of the Council to incriminate, involve or impose sanctions on the President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, because of the recent hostage-taking and the very prominent role he played in negotiations? Was he being given special treatment, and why was there so much reluctance when there was apparently so much incontrovertible truth, she asked?

The Chairman said it would not be correct to say that there was any reluctance. The Council was the only body of the United Nations that had mandatory application of its resolutions. What it would like, not only in the present case but in other similar situations, was to be absolutely clear about things and about the decisions it took. It had to be 100 per cent sure of what it was saying, that its actions were based on fact and on the real situation and that any decision was one that was seriously considered. That was why he believed the Council needed to look at the issues raised during the hearings. It had done so with other sanctions regimes, and this was one issue that needed the Council's attention.

Another correspondent wanted to know whether concrete evidence had been presented to verify the allegations made against Liberia and Burkina Faso?

The Chairman said the allegations needed to be seen very clearly in the context of concrete evidence. That was must be done before the Council took a decision, since it had to look into the matter more closely and more thoroughly.

When asked whether certification efforts over the next few months would also address small arms, the Chairman said absolutely yes. The linkage between diamonds and the arms trade was very important and would be looked at very closely. That was another point to emerge from the public hearings.

A correspondent noted that the Liberian Foreign Minister had said the diamond-producing areas in Sierra Leone were under the control of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Human rights groups had also reported that there was no outside auditing of the controls, while many people were also calling for a global control programme and not just a national one. How could the certification regime be called fool-proof in the light of so many holes, he asked?

The Chairman said that when the proposal by the Government of Sierra Leone was elaborated, he found it to be quite extensive and comprehensive in terms of its effect on the diamond trade. The counter-points raised, however, were also right. It was therefore his responsibility to assess the proposal against those points, and try to see how effectively valid it was against them.

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