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Diamond trade seeks a shinier image

September 07, 2006|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

THREE months before the release of the new Leonardo DiCaprio film "Blood Diamond," the diamond industry is mounting a publicity campaign to highlight steps it has taken to reduce the flow of illegally traded "conflict diamonds" that have helped finance brutal regimes in Africa.

The New York-based World Diamond Council took out full-page advertisements in major publications here and abroad on Wednesday announcing the creation of an Internet website, diamondfacts.org, that is designed to educate consumers about "conflict" or "blood" diamonds, which are illegally traded diamonds that have been used by rebel movements in parts of Africa to finance wars against legitimate governments.

The ads appeared in five U.S. newspapers, including The Times, as well as publications overseas such as South Africa's Business Week, the London Times and Financial Times.

Eli Izhakoff, who chairs the World Diamond Council, said that since the industry and diamond-producing countries in Africa implemented the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme six years ago, the flow of conflict diamonds has dropped from roughly 4% of the world's output in rough diamonds to less than 1%. Izhakoff said the council's goal is to eradicate all conflict diamonds.

Amy O'Meara of Amnesty International U.S.A., which has campaigned against conflict diamonds, applauded the recent reduction in the trade of such diamonds, but she said the industry's statistics are difficult to verify because the industry monitors itself. "Without third-party monitoring, there is no way to be sure that the system is working," she said.

In February, Izhakoff and Kago G. Moshashane, the deputy permanent secretary of Botswana's Ministry of Minerals, sent a letter to "Blood Diamond" director Edward Zwick, requesting that his movie provide accurate and up-to-date information about the conflict diamond trade in Sierra Leone. They noted that the period in which the movie is set -- the 1990s -- predates the implementation of the Kimberley Process.

A Warner Bros. spokesperson Wednesday said the studio supports any effort to educate the public about conflict diamonds. The film is due to open Dec. 15.

robert.welkos@latimes.com

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