Egg-sized diamond for sale: proceeds to benefit Sierra Leone's poorest

DAKAR, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sierra Leone will auction one of the world's largest diamonds to fund development projects in the impoverished community where it was found, the group managing the sale said on Tuesday.

The 709-karat gem, named the "peace diamond", was found in the eastern Kono region in March by a Christian pastor who handed it over to the West African country's government to sell.

The Rapaport Group, an international diamond trading network, will auction the gem for free in hopes that it will set an example for other diamond sales to benefit the countries from which they come, said chairman Martin Rapaport.

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Sierra Leone's 'peace diamond'
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Sierra Leone's 'peace diamond'
A 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias
A 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias
A 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Martin Rapaport, Chairman of the Rapaport Group, sits next to a woman as she holds a 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", as it is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias?
A trader looks at a 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", as it is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Martin Rapaport, Chairman of the Rapaport Group, holds a 709-carat diamond, found in Sierra Leone and known as the "Peace Diamond", as it is displayed during a tour ahead of its auction, at Israel's Diamond Exchange, in Ramat Gan, Israel October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias
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"This diamond is going to help the poorest people in the world. It stimulates the industry to think about what they're selling," Rapaport told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A first auction for the egg-sized stone fell flat in May when Sierra Leone rejected the highest bid of $7.8 million. It hopes to earn more at a new auction in New York on Dec. 4.

More than 50 percent of the proceeds will directly fund clean water, electricity, schools, medical facilities, roads, and more in Sierra Leone, particularly in the village of Koryardu where the diamond was found, the Rapaport Group said in a statement.

A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Diamonds fuelled a decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, ending in 2002, in which rebels forced civilians to mine the stones and bought weapons with the proceeds, leading to the term 'blood diamonds'.

The United Nations lifted a ban on diamond exports from Sierra Leone in 2003, but the multi-million dollar sector is still plagued by smuggling.

(Reporting By Nellie Peyton; Editing by Ros Russell)

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