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U.N. Security Council set to lift Ivory Coast diamond ban

(FILES0 this file picture taken 12 June

The U.N. Security Council is set to lift a nearly decade-long diamond embargo on Ivory Coast, diplomats said on Friday, despite U.N. experts reporting that ban has failed to stop the illicit production and trafficking of rough diamonds.

The West African country, emerging from a decade-long crisis that culminated in a brief war in 2011, has been pressing the Security Council to end the embargo that was put in place nine years ago in the wake of an initial 2002-2003 civil war.

A draft resolution circulated among the 15 Security Council members proposes lifting the diamond embargo, diplomats said. The council is due to adopt the resolution next week.

"There is consensus on this issue," said one council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second diplomat said the proposal was not expected "to be controversial for council members."

Ivory Coast received a clean bill of health in November from the Kimberley Process, the body tasked with preventing the sale of so called "blood diamonds" from fuelling armed conflict.

But the U.N. group of experts reported to the Security Council this month "that the measures and restrictions imposed by the Security Council ... still do not prevent the trafficking of Ivorian rough diamonds."

"The group furthermore notes that, in spite of having identified violations of the diamond embargo in its public reports since 2006, the Ivorian authorities have made no progress in combating the smuggling of diamonds nor taken any concrete initiatives to date," according to the report.

The U.N. experts, charged with monitoring compliance with a sanctions regime including an arms embargo, have written to the Kimberley Process stating their concerns and inviting officials to discuss with them how best they could be addressed.

The experts reported that a senior Ivory Coast army officer is breaking the diamond embargo and there was "strong evidence" he was using the profits to support soldiers loyal to him within the army. The experts also voiced concern that diamond profits may be used to purchased weapons in violation of an arms embargo.

In October, the experts estimated the annual value of illicit diamond trade to be between $12 million and $23 million.

Before the embargo, Ivory Coast produced about 300,000 carats of diamond a year, valued at around $25 million, according to industry experts. Ivorian authorities have said they would like to relaunch the sector to fund post-war reconstruction.

Blood diamonds were thrust into the global spotlight in the 1990s during a succession of African conflicts where their trade financed arms purchases and resulted in human rights abuses.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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