BANGUI — Central African Republic has called for a ban on its diamond exports to be lifted, saying it needs the tax revenue from sales to revive its crisis-crippled economy.
The Kimberley Process, a global watchdog set up to stop the trade in "blood diamonds", announced a suspension of certified diamond trading with the country in May, two months after a coalition of mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize.
"Diamonds have nothing to do with the situation in Central African Republic," said Herbert Goyan Djono-Ahaba, mines minister in a transitional government meant to lead the country to fresh elections.
"Our country was suspended based on risks but there was no proof that diamonds financed the war," he said in an interview on Thursday.
Diamonds are an important source of revenue for the government in Bangui and the ban makes interim president Michel Djotodia’s task of staging polls even more daunting.
About 10% of Central African Republic’s population of 4.5-million has fled the increasingly sectarian violence.
World powers are scrambling to quell the trouble, fearing tit-for-tat killings could escalate into war between the Christian majority and Muslims, who represent about 15% of the population.
Mr Djono-Ahaba said the country had fulfilled the requirements to be reinstated but claimed Kimberley Process experts had declined to visit to verify the government’s efforts.
But Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), a civil society member of the Kimberly Process, said the government was far from having the ban lifted.
PAC research director Alan Martin said the verification mission was unable to go to the country because the government could not guarantee its safety.
"Instability exists in both eastern and western diamond mining areas. It is also evident that the government is not in control of the diamond fields," Mr Martin said.
France is preparing to boost its military presence to about 1,000 soldiers to be followed by the deployment of a 3,600-strong African Union peacekeeping force. The United Nations is also examining the possibility of establishing a peacekeeping mission.
"Blood diamonds", stones used to fund insurgencies, became a global issue in the 1990s during a succession of African conflicts in which their trade financed arms purchases and resulted in human rights abuses.
A public outcry led to the establishment in 2002 of the Kimberley Process, a government, industry and civil society scheme aimed at certifying stones and preventing conflict diamonds from entering the international market.