Every diamond that leaves the country is supposed to come through the Government Gold and Diamond Office in Freetown. It is located just behind the Bank of Sierra Leone in two cramped rooms with a few odds and ends of furniture.
Exporters come in to the Government Gold and Diamond Office with diamonds they've bought from dealers. The two men who evaluate them are Lawrence Ndoga Meyer, the director of the office; and Lemple Michel, an Israeli dealer who represents the Diamond High Council in Antwerp. Both men say they can spot possible rebel diamonds just by looking.
Michel says, "There are certain areas, you can identify from where it comes. By the quality..."
"By certain peculiarities in the diamond you can easily identify (them)." Meyers interjects, "You have an area called Pujehun the diamonds are smooth, oily and they are shiny. In Tongo field, a rebel held area, diamonds are crinkly, they are cleaved looking. In Kono, they are smooth, good looking, good shapes, very nice colors. They fetch a premium when they go outside on the open market."
Once the diamond is examined, it's weighed, photographed, packaged in clear plastic, sealed and assigned a random number to foil would-be counterfeiters.
The information is sent to Antwerp by computer. But what happens before a diamond gets to this office in Freetown is anybody's guess. There are weak links all along the diamond chain. Out in the bush, the mines inspectors say if they get a tip-off about illegal diamonds, they get on their bicycles or take public transportation. By the time they get to the spotů the men with the diamonds are long gone.
In July, the rebels signed an accord with the government. As part of the peace deal, they promised to stop mining and give up control of the Kono area. But Ian Smillie, a Canadian who served on the UN panel investigating conflict diamonds in West Africa, says the RUF has used previous cease-fires to prepare for more war. His group has visited rebel held areas. He says the diamond digging is going on at an even faster pace today than ever.
Smillie says that since there is a peace agreement the RUF aren't being harassed by anybody. "In fact," he says, "UNAMSIL, the UN peacekeepers are patrolling the area to make sure there isn't any fighting. They don't have the mandate to stop diamond mining, so in effect basically what we've done in helping to create a 'peace' in Sierra Leone, and I put peace in quotation marks, its given the RUF the time, the space, the ability, to dig in a way they couldn't over the past five years."
And, he says, blood diamonds are moving easily across the border in all directions.
"You can take them to Guinea," says Smillie, "you can take them to Liberia, you can take them straight to Antwerp if there was a plane going that way."
At the tiny airstrip at Freetown, passengers coming from the diamond fields line up and one by one are led into a room for a pat down. It's not a very serious attempt. Leaving the country, there's even less security. A passenger without the required police clearance gets a polite request for a bribe. Any of these people could be hiding diamonds in their shoes or watchbands. And so this is how a handful of tiny rough stones begin a chain of greed, hope and desire that will extend around the world.
Next: Part III Diamond Trading in Belgium